Use of Patient’s Own Stem Cells Could Regenerate Damaged Heart Muscle After Heart Attacks

By Dave Andrusko

Dr. Eduardo Marban

When the use of adult stem cells provides real improvement for patients, often the key distinction—that they are not stem cells harvested from human embryos—is ignored or glossed over. Not with the work of researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute who reported success at using  stem cells derived from a patient’s own heart muscle to reduce the size of scars left over from prior heart attack and to re-grow damaged heart muscle.

When a patient has a heart attack a portion of the heart muscle is left with a scar. The result is the heart is unable to beat as strongly or pump blood as efficiently. As the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute explains in a video, doctors “are examining whether treating a patient with their cardiac stem cells can literally reduce the size of the scar and restore health function to the heart after a heart attack.” The answer, as reported in The Lancet, is yes.

The 17 patients received the therapy about three months after their heart attacks. One year out Dr. Eduardo Marban “measured an average 50 percent reduction in the size of the scar tissue,” according to Fox News’ John Roberts.

“One of the holy grails in medicine has been the use of medicine to achieve regeneration,” Marban said.  “Patients that were treated not only experienced shrinkage of their scars, but also new growth of their heart muscle, which is very exciting.”

After inserting a catheter into the diseased hearts and taking a small biopsy of muscle, the tissue was manipulated into producing stem cells.   “After a few weeks of marinating in culture, researchers had enough stem cells to re-inject them into the patients’ hearts,” Roberts reports. “Over the course of a year, the stem cells took root in cardiac tissue, encouraging the heart to create new muscle and blood vessels. In other words, the heart actually began to mend itself.”

Marban told Roberts, “We’ve achieved what we have achieved using adult stem cells – in this case – actually specifically from a patient’s own heart back into the same patient. There’s no ethical issues with that – there’s no destruction of embryos.” In addition because the stems are the patient’s own, “There’s no reason to worry about immune rejection,” Marban explained.

Marban told Roberts that the applications could go well beyond diseased hearts.

“If we can do that in the heart, I don’t see any reason, conceptually, why we couldn’t do it in kidneys for example, or pancreas or other organs that have very limited regenerative capacity,” Marban said. Interestingly, it appears that the stem cells themselves may not have turned into cardiac muscle, “but rather they stimulated the heart to produce new muscle cells,” Roberts reported.

“Here we have another exciting and actual application of adult stem cells, successfully improving patient health,” said Dr. David Prentice, an expert on stem cells. “While most people still don’t know the difference between lifesaving adult stem cells and life-ending embryonic stem cells, stories like this about real-life successes of adult stem cells are finally breaking through to the public.”

Prentice pointed out that similar published evidence of adult stem cell treatment for heart damage has been accumulating for ten years, and the growing mountain of evidence is becoming hard to ignore even for the most blinkered critic.’

“As Dr. Marban notes, there is no reason adult stem cells couldn’t be used to repair other organs as well,” Prentice said. “ Besides acute and chronic heart damage as well as angina, studies have already shown initial success using adult stem cells to treat a myriad of conditions, including spinal cord injury, stroke, juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, and dozens more.”

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