Using stem cells to help heal heart attack wounds

By Sam Durley

Heart muscle that is damaged as a result of a heart attack can be healed using stem cells generated from the patient’s own heart, according to scientists in the US.

Doctors in America have published in the medical journal, The Lancet, details of a safety trial in which they successfully repaired up to half the damage caused by a heart attack.

Stem cells were generated from the patient’s own heart by taking a heart muscle sample and growing the cells in the laboratory. The stem cells that were present in the sample were then injected into the patient’s damaged heart to help heal the wounded muscle.

The trial of seventeen men at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles showed promising results as the stem cells were incorporated by the healthy heart muscle and developed into functioning heart tissue. Importantly, the injected stem cells did not develop into tumours, a potential risk of this type of treatment.

Heart attacks occur when a blood vessel which feeds the heart with oxygen becomes blocked, starving the heart muscle and causing it to die. This dead muscle is naturally replaced by scar tissue which is ineffective at pumping blood around the body. Doctors have previously had little resources to repair this damage until now.

Other studies claim that stem cells generated from bone marrow could also be used to heal scar tissue as a result of heart attacks. However, the researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Institute claim the use of heart generated stem cells is up to 5 times more effective.

Scientists suggest that this type of treatment should be trialled in more advanced studies, which is an exciting step towards realising the potential of personalised medicine.

Using stem cells derived from the patient being treated is hugely desirable for doctors as it massively reduces the risk of the patients own body rejecting the cells that can help repair damaged or diseased tissue.

While a hugely exciting prospect for modern medicine, further evidence will need to be obtained to show that this treatment is risk-free in the long term before it will be freely available.

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