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Early Trial Indicates Stem Cells Can Reverse Heart Damage

Human heart and arteries (Yale School of Medicine/Wikimedia Commons)

(Yale School of Medicine/Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers from University of Miami in Florida and BioCardia, a cardiac device manufacturer in San Carlos, California have shown that stem cells injected into enlarged hearts can reduce heart size, reduce scar tissue, and improve function to injured heart areas. The results of this small trial appear in the journal Circulation Research, published by the American Heart Association.

Using catheters, researchers injected stem cells derived from the patients’ own bone marrow into the hearts of eight men — average age of 57 — with chronically enlarged, low-functioning hearts. The results indicate that heart size decreased an average of 15 percent to 20 percent, about three times what is considered possible with current medical therapies.

The findings also suggest that scar tissue decreased by an average of 18.3 percent. The patients also showed improvement in the function, or contraction, of specific heart areas that were damaged. Study leader Joshua Hare, University of Miami professor of medicine, notes that the therapy improved even old cardiac injuries, some dating back as long as 11 years.

The team used two different types of bone marrow stem cells in their study — mononuclear and mesenchymal stem cells. The small size of the study study did not let the researcher determine if one type of cell works better than the other. All patients in the study, say the scientists, benefited from the therapy and tolerated the injections with no serious adverse events.

The researchers say the findings are promising for the more than five million Americans who have enlarged hearts from damage due to heart attacks. These patients can suffer premature death, disability, and experience frequent hospitalizations. Options for treatment are limited to life-long medications and serious medical interventions, such as heart transplants.

Read more: Device Maker, Heart Institute Fund Cardiac Device Study

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