This Treatment Literally Heals Broken Hearts
Yesterday, my colleague, Martin Denholm, discussed how the National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan is turning your heartbeat into an ultra-secure password.
And with Valentine’s Day only two days ago, I thought I’d follow up with an article about a different kind of heart-based innovation.
Only this technology isn’t designed to ease your cyber-security paranoia. But it could end up saving millions of lives every year.
You see, after a heart attack, the damaged parts of the organ are gradually filled in with scar tissue. Which keeps the heart from functioning at full strength and increases the likelihood of another attack down the road.
In fact, about 10% of heart attack patients suffer from another one within a year of leaving the hospital. Extend that to five years, and the number jumps to 18% for men and 35% for women.
That’s where the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute’s new post-heart attack treatment – which involves using the patient’s own stem cells – comes in.
Researchers recently tested this treatment on 25 patients. And based on the results, it “could be great news for heart attack patients who face the debilitating symptoms of heart failure,” according to Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation.
Here’s how it works…
During the first month of recovery, the researchers fed a tube through the vein and to the heart, where they then remove some of the tissue. That might not sound like the best idea after the organ has already been damaged, but they only remove a small portion (about the size of half a raisin).
The tissue is sent to the lab where they culture stem cells for the repair. They then inject 25 million stem cells back into the patient’s arteries, where they can swarm around the heart and begin healing.
So how well did it work?
Scar Tissue Cut in Half
Of the 25 patients involved, 17 received the actual treatment, while the remaining eight patients acted as the control group.
Before the trial started, an average of 24% of the patients’ left ventricles – the part of the organ responsible for pumping out oxygen-rich blood to the body – consisted of scar tissue.
Within six months of receiving the stem cell injection, that number dropped to 16% for the patients receiving the stem cell treatment. Six months after that, scars only covered 12%.
So the treatment cut the patients’ scar tissue in half in just 12 months. And the control group saw no change in scar tissue levels.
Better yet, the researchers saw evidence that the cells were actually triggering the growth of new healthy tissue, as well.
And while the patients saw no boost in the heart’s ability to pump, according to the study, the “ability to reduce scars and simultaneously stimulate the re-growth of healthy tissue… [is] unprecedented.”
As Eduardo Marbán, Director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, told PhysOrg:
“This has never been accomplished before, despite a decade of cell therapy trials for patients with heart attacks. Now we have done it. The effects are substantial, and surprisingly larger in humans than they were in animal tests.”
This is huge, especially since the main objective of this particular study was to verify the procedure’s safety.
Now that they’ve successfully proven that it’s both safe and effective, though, I’m looking forward to seeing further results as they expand the trial in the near future.
And considering that 770,000 people in the United States suffer coronary attacks each year – and heart disease is responsible for 7.1 million deaths annually worldwide – the sooner the better.