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Change of heart: Stem-cell patient finds new life

Thomas Lankford, Arizona Republic, January 21, 2010

Stem cell therapy for heart failure has yielded positive results in clinical trials as seen in this video  Currently there are over 20 ongoing clinical trials using various types of adult stem cells in patients who have either had a heart attack, or who have heart failure associated with poor circulation.  Dr. Nabil Dib from Arizona is so optimistic at the prospects of stem cell therapy that he actually believes that one day stem cell therapy will replace heart transplantation.   

"Our goal is to improve the quality of life of our patients and their survival," he said. "Cell therapy is one of the most significant steps we've taken in cardiac medicine."

Although stem cell therapy is currently available for heart failure outside of the United States at companies such as the Stem Cell Institute (, with positive results reported (Ichim et al. Placental mesenchymal and cord blood stem cell therapy for dilated cardiomyopathy. Reprod Biomed Online. 2008 Jun;16(6):898-905, video of patient at, Dr. Dib is actually performing this procedure at the Gilbert Mercy Hospital in Arizona. 

One of Dr. Dib's patients who was treated with stem cells after a heart attack stated "In just a few weeks after Dib performed the procedure on my heart in May, I could, miraculously it seemed, again pick up and hold my 5-year-old granddaughter Ashley. I used a chain saw, which I couldn't even crank two months earlier, to saw downed trees into fire logs. I then split and placed the logs into stacks. In the sultry 93-degree Alabama heat, I was wringing wet with sweat from head to toe . . . but my heart didn't skip a beat. I can now walk miles without any shortness of breath or tightness in my chest. I can lift up the garage door in one motion, and easily lift and pour the five-gallons of gasoline into my farm tractor. I can walk up stairs without resting."

Although stem cell therapy is currently offered only as part of clinical trials, he believes that these trials will be completed within a few years and that subsequently stem cells, after approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will be available to the public.

Dr. Dib's original entry into the area of stem cell transplantation began with animal studies he conducted with scientists at the Arizona State University and the Arizona Heart Institute.  In this work they identified that specific stem cells from the skeletal muscle seem to not only survive when implanted into hearts that have been damaged by a heart attack, but also seem to have a regenerative effect.  These studies were presented at the American Heart Association Convention in Chicago in 2002 where he received international recognition for this potentially new way of treating heart failure. 

Subsequent to these animal studies, Dr. Dib was chosen as the Principle Investigator on the first clinical trial using this approach in humans in the United States.  In 2004, he received permission from the FDA to begin this study.  The process of stem cell transplantation requires only two to three hours and the patient is usually sent home after an overnight stay in the hospital. Recovery is a matter of days, as contrasted with three months for open chest surgery.

According to Dr. Dib "Stem cells in the body are programmed to last 150 years, and the goal is to make it possible for patients to have a better quality of life while living longer.  We still have a lot of work to do," he said. "but doctors and scientists have to continually look forward."

Presently Dr. Dib is in collaboration with the Chandler and Mercy Gilbert medical centers in the creation of a regenerative cardiovascular research program that aims to restore the health of cardiac patients that have run out of options. It is believed that research conducted will promote the use of adult stem cells in restoring the health of those who have exhausted all traditional medical therapies.  One of the ongoing clinical trials at the Center is being performed by the company Angioblast Systems that is using a "universal donor" stem cell approach.  The study is a blinded, randomized trial, where not all volunteers are injected with the stem cells.  The chances of receiving stem cells versus placebo are 15 out of 20.

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