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Multiple studies reveal potential of stem cell therapies for heart patients


"The effect of these cells has continued for up to two years and has gotten stronger. There was also a major reduction in heart scarring," Bolli told the audience.

Thirty-three patients with heart failure who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery participated in the study. The 13 in the untreated control group showed no meaningful improvement in their hearts' pumping ability, contraction of the damaged wall of the heart or quality of life at one year. There was still no change in three patients followed for two years.

But after two years the 20 patients who were treated with cardiac stem cells taken from their own hearts had a significant increase in pumping ability and the contracting ability of the scarred part of their hearts also improved. Moreover, MRIs performed on nine patients in the trial showed evidence of myocardial regeneration – new heart tissue replacing former dead tissue killed by heart attack.

No deaths were reported, nor were any adverse effects from the stem cells. Bolli said that larger, multicenter studies are now needed to confirm the findings.

Another study presented at the conference compared the effectiveness of allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and autologous MSCs in treating patients whose hearts no longer were able to pump enough blood to the rest of their body due to coronary artery disease. About half of the 31 study participants received their own stem cells (autologous) while the other half received those from donors (allogeneic).

The allogeneic MSCs were found to be as safe and effective as their autologous counterparts.

“One potential advantage of allogeneic cells is the possibility of their use as an ‘off-the-shelf’ therapeutic agent, avoiding the need for bone marrow aspiration and tissue culture delays before treatment. It is also hypothesized that the function of autologous MSCs could be impaired in patients with comorbidities or advanced age,” Joshua M. Hare, M.D., of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine said during the presentation.

How treatment timing affects outcome in cardiac patients receiving stem cell transfusions was the subject of yet another study, this one reported on by Jay H. Traverse, M.D., of the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. His team investigated the influence of timing of cardiovascular cell delivery within the first week after a heart attack on improving left ventricular (LV) function following the restoration of blood flow to the heart. The three-year trial involved 120 patients.

“There was no overall effect of BMC treatment on this ongoing improvement at six months vs. placebo despite previous supportive clinical data. Additionally, the day of cell delivery did not demonstrate an effect on the recovery of LV function or on LV volumes or infarct size [damaged area of heart],” the researchers concluded.

Both the Hare and Traverse studies are published in the Nov. 6 online first edition of JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association).

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