The heart muscle relies on a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood, which nourishes the muscle and keeps it pumping. With a heart attack or congestive heart failure, the flow of blood is interrupted by blockage in an artery. Without adequate blood, a portion of the heart can develop necrosis (die), which causes scar tissue formation. Over time, this damage leads to heart failure.
Heart failure affects around 5 million Americans, and this condition involves progressive weakening of the heart. The heart cannot pump adequate blood to meet the body’s requirements. With end-stage heart failure, patients have few options for treatment. For this reason, scientists are evaluating the use of stem cells for the treatment of serious heart conditions.
How do stem cells treat heart conditions?
With heart failure and heart attack, the damaged portions of the heart become unable to pump blood efficiently as they once did. People who suffer a heart attack must take medications to have the heart work correctly. A new innovative treatment involves the use of stem cells, which have the ability to grow into many types of heart cells. These cells could potentially regenerate and repair damaged heart tissue.
Many different types of approaches are now being used involving stem cells for repair of damaged heart muscle. Bone marrow derived stem cells can be inserted into the heart using a tiny catheter. Once they are in place, these cells help regenerate the tissue.
Amniotic stem cell therapy may involve IV infusion to help improve ejection fraction. It’s a painless, safe procedure.
What does the research show?
In a recent study published in The Lancet, researchers treated 17 heart attack patients with stem cells, which were taken from their own heart muscle. A year following the procedure, the heart muscle scar tissue had decreased by around 50%. While these results sound dramatic, they show that scientists are close to perfecting stem cell therapy.
Studies are producing many outcomes because researchers are using different approaches to harvesting and use of stem cells. Most stem cells are obtained from the patient’s own bone marrow, but some cells come from the patient’s own heart tissue. In another study involving patients with severe, end-stage heart failure, researchers found that those who received stem cells showed a 37% lower rate of death, hospitalization, and heart failure symptoms over a 12-month evaluation period.
Recently, researchers used hematopoietic stem cells following heart attack in rat subjects. They found that when stem cells were injected into the damaged heart muscle, they formed new cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) and vascular endothelium. The newly formed heart muscle occupied 68% of the damaged portion of the heart muscle after the stem cells were injected. In a second study using mouse subjects, adult stem cells were proven to increase survival rate by 26%. The damaged heart tissue showed the presence of cardiomyocytes and endothelial cells, which formed from the injected stem cells.
Which types of stem cells can be used to treat heart conditions?
Adult stem cells can be obtained from adipose tissue, heart tissue, and bone marrow. Donated stem cells from umbilical cord blood are screened for infectious diseases according to International Blood Bank Standards.
Amniotic stem cell treatment comes from consenting donors after a scheduled c-section. These are processed at an FDA regulated lab according to Current Good Tissue Practice Standards.
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Patel AN, Henry TD, Quyyumi A, et al. (2016). Ixmyelocel-T for patients with ischaemic heart failure: a prospective randomised double-blind trial. The Lancet, (16) 30, 137-44. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736.
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