Stem Cells Tested in UK Heart Patients
By Alok Jha, The Guardian, June 22, 2007
In order to repair the damage caused by heart attacks, British scientists will be trying a new method to treat the condition. Their hope is to regenerate tissue by using the patient's own bone marrow. Stem cells taken from the marrow will be injected into the damaged hearts.
60 people who have recently suffered severe heart attacks will be involved in the trial which will be lead by Raimondo Ascione of the University of Bristol. The damaged tissue could potentially be repaired by stem cells that will be injected by Dr. Ascione during coronary bypass surgery. The cells have the potential to differentiate into the types of heart cells needed to fix that patient's hearts.
About 230,000 people suffer a heart attack each year, making heart disease the biggest killer in the UK. Nearly one-third of those heart attack victims die. Because arteries get clogged with fatty deposits, blood supply is restricted, and this eventually leads to a heart attack. The hearts ability to pump blood is reduced when cells in the oxygen-deprived area die causing scarring.
"One in three people will die within two or three years and the remaining people will have a very poor quality of life," said Dr Ascione. "Your exercise tolerance will be very poor, you will not to be able to enjoy your life. If this [experiment] works you will minimize this ... the point of this trial is to do the bypass and try to repair the scar, to make it a viable muscle again."
A type of stem cell that only forms about 1% of the bone marrow will be used for the experiment.
"This approach ensures no risk of rejection or infection," said Dr. Ascione.
Scientists will conduct MRI scans of the patient's hearts prior to the operation and six months afterwards.
"We expect that part we injected to be repaired and it will pump and contract properly," he said.
Funding the trial with a £210,000 grant was the British Heart Foundation.
"We hope that this exciting project will provide information taking us a step nearer to the day when stem cells can be used routinely to help repair damaged hearts," said, associate medical director of the foundation, Jeremy Pearson.
The procedure could be extended to every patient suffering from heart disease if the trial is a success said Dr. Ascione.
It also gets around the ethical issues that would result from use of stem cells from embryonic or fetal tissue," said he added.