Healthy living

Cardiac stem cells used to repair heart tissue

Heart stem cells 'Striking' results

Stem cells taken from patients own hearts have been used to help repair tissue damaged by a heart attack.

It is the first time that stem cells taken from a healthy part of a patient's heart have been used in this way.

Heart failure is a common but disabling condition, where the heart does not pump blood around the body as well as it should, usually due to damaged heart muscle tissue.

In the developed world, the most common cause of heart failure is a heart attack. Treatments for heart failure are designed to ease symptoms which include breathlessness and tiredness, but cannot repair the damage done to the heart muscle.

The study, known as SCIPIO, involved 23 patients who had suffered heart failure as a result of a heart attack. Sixteen of the patients were assigned to stem cell therapy, while the remaining seven received standard care for their condition.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Louisville extracted cardiac stem cells (CSC) from a healthy part of the patients' hearts as they underwent heart bypass surgery.

The cardiac stem cells were then cultured in the laboratory, and one million of the CSCs were infused back into the patients' own hearts about four months later.

Four months after having received the CSCs, the doctors measured how well patients were able to pump blood out of the left ventricle of the heart with every beat, known as the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF).

In the 14 patients analysed, the LVEF increased from 30.3 per cent before treatment to 38.5 per cent after four months, while there was no change in the LVEF in the patients who did not receive the CSCs.

After a year, the LVEF increased by 12.3 per cent in eight of the CSC patients, the researchers found.

Scans performed on seven of the CSC patients also showed a reduction in the size of dead tissue, by around 30 per cent after a year.

Dr Roberto Bolli, one of the research leaders from the University of Louisville, described the results as "striking."

Commenting on the results, Professor Gerd Heusch from the University School of Medicine in Essen, Germany, said: "The results from SCIPIO raise new optimism because the study is based on rigorous quality standards and the reported benefits are of an unexpected magnitude... we will have to see whether further data will meet the promises of the present study: more patients will need to be followed up over a longer period.

"It is to be hoped that SCIPIO has the same potential to transform cardiac cell therapy that its namesake Scipio Africanus achieved in Roman military campaigns against Karthago."

The study findings are published online in the medical journal The Lancet.

This article was published on Tue 15 November 2011

Image © Cecilia Lim -

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