By Dave Andrusko
In a first-of-its-kind study published in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal, researchers from Universidad de los Andes in Chile found that stem cells derived from the umbilical cords of newborn babies may lead to repairs in damaged hearts and improvements in heart muscle.
“We are encouraged by our findings because they could pave the way to a non-invasive, promising new therapy for a group of patients who face grim odds,” said Fernando Figueroa, one of the authors of the study and a medicine professor at the University de los Andes.
“In heart failure, the heart’s muscles weaken and can no longer pump blood adequately throughout the body,” explained Ana Sandoiu
Worryingly, the threat of heart failure is increasing among people in the United States; the number of people affected is currently set at 6.5 million, and this is expected to rise by 46 percent by the year 2030.
The authors of the new study note that previous research has already looked into the potential of stem cells derived from bone marrow for treating heart failure, but they say that umbilical cord-derived stem cells have never been examined.
These are a more desirable avenue for treatment, the authors add, as they are more accessible, do not pose any of the ethical concerns that embryonic stem cells do, and are not likely to elicit a negative immune response.
Sandoiu’s conclusion was seconded by Dr. David Prentice, Vice President and Research Director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, who also explained more about the research.
“This is just the latest study that shows effectiveness of adult stem cells in treating damaged hearts,” he told NRL News Today.
This controlled study divided 30 patients – aged between 18 and 75 – into two small groups: one received treatment, and the other received a placebo. Patients who received a single injection of mesenchymal stem cells, a type of adult stem cell, isolated from umbilical cords, showed significant and long-lasting improvement in the ability of their heart to pump blood and their overall health.
As he does routinely, Dr. Prentice emphasized that “Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells continue to show their ability to successfully treat numerous conditions, all without killing the stem cell donor.” Adult stem cells transplants, he said
remain the only successful use of stem cells for patients, as documented by hundreds of published, peer-reviewed scientific articles. Adult stem cells can be isolated from many different tissues, including bone marrow, blood, muscle, fat, and umbilical cord blood, and isolating the adult stem cells from tissues of a patient or a healthy donor does not require harming or destroying the adult stem cell donor.
The authors concluded that the treatment was “feasible and safe,” and that it “resulted in a significant improvement in left ventricular function, functional status, and quality of life.”
“These findings suggest [that the intervention] could have an impact on clinical outcomes, supporting further testing through large clinical trials,” they add.
In its press release, the American Heart Association observed, “Despite medical advances, half of patients diagnosed with heart failure will die within five years of diagnosis, according to Figueroa. If affirmed in larger studies, these findings could provide a promising new treatment option for a condition that currently has few.”