The more we learn about stem cells, the more we are amazed by their ability to heal the human body. We once believed that dead heart muscle can never grow back, but by using cardiac stem cells, we can now regenerate healthy heart tissue. It is the biggest advancement in cardiology.
– Dr. Damon Noto
It was once known that if you had a major heart attack, the damaged heart cells were gone forever. Whatever you do: living a healthy life style, taking standard maintenance medications, or placing a stent to physically widen the artery, nothing can regrow new heart tissues. As a result, patients who suffer severe hart attacks are prone to future damage, because the weakened heart tries to overcompensate until the end result is heart failure.
Not any more. Researchers have found a way to regenerate heart tissues by using stem cells.
The heart contains cardiac stem cell (CSCs) that can develop into either heart muscle or blood vessel components, whatever the heart requires at the time. The problem for heart disease patients is that there aren’t enough of the repair cells waiting around to heal the damaged tissue.
In two separate studies published in 2011, doctors have found encouraging ways to treat heart failure caused by ischaemic heart disease (a blocking of the heart blood vessels causing death of heart muscle tissue) by using CSCs.
The first study lead by Dr. Roberto Bolli used purified CSCs, harvested during patients’ bypass surgery. It means more than 90% of the infusion was actual cardiac stem cells. At a mean time of 4 months after their coronary artery bypass grafting, 16 patients with severe heart failure received purified CSCs infusion and within a year, their heart function markedly improved.
The method to evaluate the heart’s pumping efficiency is through “Left Ventricle Ejection Fraction,” which measures the amount of blood the heart pumps with each contraction. Anything less than 40% is considered as severe heart failure. In the treatment group, the patients’ LVEF increased from 30.3% to 38.5% at 4 months after infusion. In the control group (7 patients, received standard care but no CSCs infusion), no improvement of the LVEF was noted.
Most importantly, at one-year follow-up in 8 patients in the CSCs group, the LVEF increased by 12.3% (from 30.2% before CSCs to 42.5%). In the seven treated patients in whom cardiac MRI could be done, the size of the dead tissue (infarct) decreased from 32.6 g by 7.8 g (24%) at 4 months and 9·8 g (30%) at 1 year.
In a second study at Cedars-Sinai, 17 patients (six weeks after suffering a moderate to major heart attack) received stem cell infusion that contained a mixture of cardiac stem cells and other types of cells extracted from the patient’s heart. Not only did scar tissue retreat (between 30% and 47% in test subjects), healthy heart muscle also increased. The results suggested that regeneration of cardiac tissue had taken place.
Most importantly, these procedures are safe and feasible. No treated patient in either study suffered a significant health setback.
It turns out the secret to heal the heart is in itself.