Curing heart disease with stem cells

In heartening news for patients with severe ischemic heart disease and heart failure, a new human trial shows that stem cell treatment, when injected directly into the heart muscle, is effective in treating failing hearts.

“Our results show that this stem cell treatment is safe and treats ischemic heart disease and heart failure better than a placebo,” said Anders Bruun Mathiasen, a research fellow in the cardiac catherisation lab at Rigshospitalet University Hospital, Copenhagen. The stem cell treatment has the potential to benefit many people who suffer from the common and deadly ischemic heart disease, he added.

Ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, results from the gradual buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. It can lead to chest pain, heart attack and heart failure. In the study, researchers injected a type of bone marrow stem cell (mesenchymal stromal cell) directly into the heart muscles of a group of patients with chronic ischemic heart disease and heart failure. Six months after treatment, patients who received stem cell treatment via injection had improved heart pump functions better than those who got a placebo.

“The procedure for stem cell treatment via injection into the heart requires only local anesthesia, so it appears to be a promising treatment for patients who have no other options (to treat ischemic heart disease and heart failure),” Mathiasen added.

Though other stem cell treatment is available for patients with ischemic heart disease, these therapies do not help everyone. Many patients continue to face fatigue, shortness of breath, and accumulation of fluid in the lungs and legs. Previous studies have shown that mesenchymal stromal cells can stimulate repair and regeneration in a variety of tissues, including heart muscle.

Mathiasen said that in the case of ischemic heart disease, stem cell treatment likely works by facilitating the growth of new blood vessels and heart muscle. A larger third phase of clinical trials is needed to move towards the approval of this stem cell treatment as a more widely-used therapy for ischemic heart disease, he added.