Stem cells discovery gets hearts pumping
PATIENTS' own stem cells can be used to repair damage caused by a heart attack, scientists have found in a breakthrough hailed as revolutionary.
Researchers discovered that weakness caused by a heart attack could be improved with an injection of one million stem cells taken from healthy areas of the patient's own heart.
Scientists said it could represent "the biggest revolution in cardiovascular medicine" in a generation.
There are a million people in Britain suffering with heart failure, caused when areas of damage to the heart muscle cause it to weaken and beat less efficiently.
The condition causes breathlessness and fatigue, and current treatments are aimed only at easing the symptoms rather than repairing damage to the heart.
Dr Roberto Bolli, of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and Dr Piero Anversa, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, conducted the study, published in journal 'The Lancet'.
"The results are striking," said Dr Bolli. "If these results hold up in future studies, I believe this could be the biggest revolution in cardiovascular medicine in my lifetime."
Dr Anversa added: "Seeing these cells given successfully to very sick patients is the most rewarding experience that a physician-scientist can have in his or her lifetime."
But both warned bigger studies were needed to establish how effective the technique is and how it compares with previous methods using stem cells from bone marrow.
In the study, named Scipio, 14 patients who had heart failure caused by a heart attack were given an infusion of their own cardiac stem cells and others received nothing for comparison.
The cells were removed from healthy parts of the heart during heart-bypass surgery and purified and grown in the laboratory until each patient had one million cells.
Four months after surgery, the cells were injected into the heart.
Readings were taken of the heart's pumping capacity before and at intervals afterwards.
There was some improvement after four months but after one year there was a 12pc increase, on average, in the pumping capacity of the heart.
Scans revealed that the damaged areas of the heart had shrunk.
The study was presented at the American Heart Association's annual scientific meeting in Florida.
Prof Michael Schneider, chairman in cardiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, who has been working in this area at Imperial College London, said the findings were "exciting".
"This is a very exciting and gratifying first step," he said.
He added that the "holy grail" would be to stimulate stem cells to grow into new heart muscle without having to remove them from the patient's heart. (© Daily Telegraph, London)