Thursday, February 16, 2012

Patients' stem cells reduce tissue damage after heart attacks

Stem cell treatments use cells that have the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. They serve as a repair system for the body. There are two main types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. In the article below the heart's own stem cells were used to repair damage caused to it, scientists say. They help the organ re-grow healthy muscle after a heart attack and research with regenerative medicine in other organs shows promise for the future.

Doctors and scientists are excited about stem cells because they have potential in many different areas of health and medical research. Studying stem cells may help explain how serious conditions such as birth defects and cancer come about. Stem cells may one day be used to make cells and tissues for therapy of many diseases.

By Adam Cresswell, HEALTH EDITOR,The Australian
RESEARCHERS have reported dramatic reductions in amounts of heart tissue damaged during heart attacks, after treating patients with stem cells taken from their own bodies - a technique experts say raises hopes for future treatments.

The US experts found the amount of scar tissue inside the patients' hearts had halved after the treatment was given, and new healthy muscle tissue was created - suggesting it might be possible to recover some of the heart function typically lost after heart attacks.

Although the study was small, involving just 25 patients, and designed merely to prove the technique was safe enough for further research, the authors said it "provides early evidence for therapeutic regeneration" and could lead to a new treatment option.

"This discovery challenges the conventional wisdom that, once established, cardiac scarring is permanent and that, once lost, healthy heart muscle cannot be restored," they wrote.

Heart attacks occur when the heart muscle cannot get enough oxygen from the blood to function, as when the blood flow is blocked by a clot.

The dead or damaged area of heart muscle is later replaced by scar tissue as the heart recovers, but this results in a weakened heart because the scar tissue does not beat as healthy heart muscle does.

For the study, the authors from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles gathered stem cells from the hearts of patients who had suffered a heart attack within the past month. They then isolated the stem cells and grew them, before injecting up to 25 million of these cells back into the arteries around the heart.

The researchers found that before the treatment, an average of 24 per cent of the patients' left ventricles had turned to scar tissue, but this fell to 16 per cent six months after the treatment, and to 12 per cent after 12 months.

In the study, published online yesterday by The Lancet, the authors said it was unclear why this led to only a slight increase in the ejection fraction, a measure of the heart's pumping ability.

Robert Grenfell, clinical issues director for the National Heart Foundation, said the research was promising and indicated that in future it "may be possible to regenerate heart muscle that is damaged during a heart attack".

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