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barbara
07-03-2010, 01:22 PM
Kyoto team's successful treatment may make transplants thing of past
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japanese researchers have for the first time in the nation successfully used stem cells to treat heart disease, opening up the possibility of replacing the need to resort to artificial hearts or transplants.

Prof. Hiroaki Matsubara and his team from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine harvested the stem cells from the patient's heart, used them to grow new heart muscle cells, and replanted them. The patient--Shigeki Yamaguchi from Nagata Ward, Kobe--had been ill with acute heart disease and had suffered a heart attack in February.

Since undergoing the procedure, the patient's heart functions have recovered to a level where he has no difficulty going about day-to-day life. He was discharged from the hospital Thursday.

More than 1 million people nationwide are believed to suffer from heart disease. "For seriously ill patients, this method may replace the need for heart transplants and artificial hearts," Matsubara said.

In April, Matsubara's team harvested about 15 milligrams of coronary tissue by inserting a thin tube into a blood vessel running from Yamaguchi's groin to his heart.

The team cultivated the stem cells from the tissue and multiplied their number by about 40,000 times in just over a month.

On June 1, the team performed coronary artery bypass surgery. During the operation, the team injected the stem cells into the wall of the left chamber of the heart, where many cells had been dying due to insufficient blood flow. The doctors also attached to the heart wall a five-centimeter by five-centimeter gelatin sheet containing protein to encourage growth and reproduction of the heart muscle cells.

At the time of the surgery, Yamaguchi's condition was so serious that doctors did not expect bypass surgery alone to result in a marked recovery. Before the operation, he had been confined to bed.

But two weeks after the operation, his heart was back to pumping at a normal rate and he was able to return to his day-to-day life. The doctors found no adverse side effects, such as an irregular heartbeat, and thus discharged him a month after the operation.

Stem cells can adapt to become any organ cell as they reproduce. For example, stem cells in the heart can turn into heart muscle or blood vessel cells.

Hematopoietic stem cells, which produce a variety of blood cells found inside bone marrow, are among the best known kind of stem cell.

The team believes the stem cells transformed into heart muscle cells and blood vessels, replacing the failing part of Yamaguchi's heart.

At a press conference following his discharge, Yamaguchi said: "My chest pains and heart palpitations have improved. I can walk along corridors and shower by myself now."

The team is planning its second such surgery for August, and hopes to treat four similar patients jointly with the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

After confirming the safety of the method, the University of Tokyo, Kyushu University and two other universities will join the project from fiscal 2012.

They will conduct tests to confirm the method's effectiveness on 40 patients with heart disease.

"We'll start by using the method as a temporary treatment for patients awaiting heart transplant," Matsubara said. "In the future, we hope to use this method for all seriously ill patients."

(Jul. 3, 2010)