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Stem cell cure for a broken heart

26 July 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 319

Doctors think they are close to treating heart attack victims with stem cells, after promising results in trials using pigs. A Phase I clinical trial on 48 patients is set to begin soon in the US to test the safety of the procedure in humans.

The procedure involves injecting people who have recently suffered heart attacks with bone marrow stem cells, in the hope that the cells will regenerate the scarred area and improve pumping action. The adult stem cells found in bone marrow are not as flexible as embryonic stem cells - they usually produce blood cells, but previous research suggests they can also become heart muscle cells. 'Ultimately, the goal is to develop a widely applicable treatment to repair the damage done to heart muscle that has been infarcted, or destroyed, after losing its blood supply', said Dr Joshua Hare, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University Medical School and lead trial investigator.

In the animal trials, stem cells harvested from another pig's bone marrow were injected into the damaged heart of a pig that had suffered a heart attack. After two months, the animal's heart function had been restored by as much as 50-75 per cent and the dead scar tissue had nearly disappeared. 'There is reason for optimism about these findings, possibly leading to a first-ever cure for heart attack in humans', said Dr Hare. 'If a treatment can be found for the damage done by a heart attack to heart muscle, then there is the potential to forestall the serious complications that traditionally result from a heart attack', he added.

Although the goal of the Phase I trial is only to see if the procedure is safe in humans, Dr Hare says that the researchers will be checking to see if it is helping the patients. In the initial trial, the cells will be infused into the blood stream. In later Phase II trials, designed to see if the therapy works as well in humans as it did in pigs, a variety of methods would be used to deliver the cells. In pigs, the stem cells were injected directly into the heart muscle through a catheter.

The American Heart Association says that while the results are promising, until a useful therapy is developed efforts such as stopping smoking and controlling cholesterol can help prevent many heart attacks.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Stem cell therapy successfully treats heart attacks in animals
Medical News Today |  26 July 2005
Trials 'may cure heart attacks'
The Daily Mail |  25 July 2005
Trial to test stem cells for heart attacks
LA Times |  25 July 2005
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