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Self-Repairing Hearts - Scientists Achieve World First

By Clair Weaver, The Sunday Telegraph, August 5, 2007

With the potential to save millions of lives worldwide, Australia's top heart specialists believe they have found a treatment to stop heart disease in its tracks.

The groundbreaking discovery which involves using adult stem cells from patients to repair their own hearts will be revealed today by experts from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital.

With the ability to repair dead tissue in the heart as well as generate new blood vessels, the treatment is a world-first.

The changes appear to be permanent.

Claiming 17 million lives each year, heart disease is the world's #1 killer.

Accounting for 35% of all deaths in Australia, 50,000 of the 3.5 million sufferers die annually.

In order to release beneficial stem cells from bone marrow into the bloodstream the new treatment involves injecting patients with a hormone to accomplish this task.

The cells restore circulation and create new blood vessels in the heart to boost heart function.  Patients are put on a treadmill, and the aerobic activity boosts circulation and the heart rate, encouraging the cells to travel to the heart itself.

With the ability to protect and rescue struggling heart muscles from death, evidence has also shown the hormone, Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor (GCSF) to have positive effects.

The second phase of human trails were initiated last week after passing initial safety tests.

The whole hypothesis was different when the study began a few years ago, making the treatment even more amazing said Professor David Ma, head of blood and stem-cell research at St Vincent's.

"It's given us a new direction to attack the situation."

"Because of the study results ... we have changed our emphasis."

Since the incidence of heart disease is rapidly growing in developing countries such as China and India, and already a massive problem in developed nations such as Great Britain and the U.S., the findings are significant  said Professor Ma.

Professor Bob Graham, head of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, told The Sunday Telegraph early findings were very promising.

Speaking from the US, where he was meeting international specialists last week, Prof Graham said: "At the moment we are restricting it to the most severe patients, but if it works ... hopefully we can broaden it."

"The nice thing about this trial is that the drug is already on the market - although it hasn't been used for this application."

To help after bone marrow transplants and also to help patients recover after chemotherapy, GCSF is commonly used.

Co-coordinating the trial of 40 patients with sever angina is Dr. Sharon Chih, cardiology research fellow at St Vincent's Hospital.

To assess the effectiveness of the treatment, the patients will be checked with MRI scans after three weeks.


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