View Full Version : How Stem Cells are Saving Broken Hearts

03-04-2011, 04:42 PM
How Stem Cells are Saving Broken Hearts


John Christy is the first person in the united states to have his own bone marrow stem cells injected into his heart to save his heart. This Vietnam Vet was suffering from severe coronary artery disease.
In one procedure, Cardio-Thoracic surgeon Joseph Woo at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine is taking science from bench to bedside. After five years of research in animals, he is now retrieving stem cells from john's bone marrow and using them to grow blood vessels around the heart.
He has started the first U.S. trial where stem cells are harvested during surgery, prepped and then re-inserted back into the patients own heart. Results for mr. Christy were seen almost immediately.

It's the same process that saved 76-year-old Christina McDonald -- only it wasn't arteries in her heart that were damaged. Christina's problem was in her legs.The arteries in her leg were clogged with plaque --putting her at risk for heart attack, stroke and amputation. Traditionally, doctors treat it with stents, angioplasties or bypasses. But now, they're using stem cells.

It worked for Christina. Three months later, her pain is gone. The same goes for john. His only wish...That science was working faster. He lost his wife to heart disease one year ago. Inside the lab where stem cells are saving lives.

A similar procedure is being done in Europe. The difference is Doctor Woo does his in one short surgery. In europe, it takes at least two procedures --weeks apart. In europe, they retrieve the stem cells while the patient is awake, which can be painful. Doctor Woo says any patient who is a candidate for coronary bypass surgery is a good candidate for his stem cell transplant.

CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE: Congestive heart failure occurs when the heartís ability to efficiently pump is impaired by a destruction or dysfunction of its muscle cells. The condition is a major health problem, affecting 4.8 million people -- a figure that is rapidly growing as 400,000 new patients arise each year. A common cause of this condition is a heart attack, which strikes over a million people in the U.S. annually. Although many surgical, medical and technological methods exist to help treat patients with congestive heart failure, over half of the patients die within five years of their primary diagnosis. (SOURCE: stemcells.nih.gov)

STEM CELL POTENTIAL: Restoring the functionality of hearts damaged by congestive heart failure and heart attacks is one of the most challenging tasks doctors and surgeons face. Now, research has provided hope that adult and embryonic stem cells have the potential to replace the heartís damaged muscle cells, as well as create blood vessels to route a steady supply of blood to them. To do this, heart muscle cells, such as the cardiomyocyte, which serve to push blood out of the ventricle, must be developed in order to improve blood flow and the transportation of oxygen and nutrients.

If extremely specific growth conditions are achieved in labs, then it is possible to leverage stem cells to develop new heart muscle cells. To test this concept, researchers forced a heart attack in lab rats and mice by attaching a ligature around a key blood vessel of their hearts in order to restrict the flow of nutrients and oxygen. Next, they tested the efficacy of a specific group of adult primitive bone marrow cells by injecting them directly into the damaged ventricle. To the researchersí satisfaction, new cardiomyocytes, among other crucial heart muscle cells, began to form, leading the way for the development of a brand new system of coronary arteries, arterioles and capillaries. When compared to the control mice that also suffered heart attacks, but did not receive a stem cell treatment, the treated mice were found to be much more likely to survive. Research has shown high hopes that similar effects will blossom from human embryonic stem cells. Since embryonic cells can be coaxed into developing into any type of adult body cell, researchers hope to leverage them to take on the properties of cardiomyocytes and other cells. Embryonic cells arenít the only solution, however. Under the right conditions, human hematopoietic stem cells are also able to transform into desired tissue types such as cardiac muscle. (SOURCE: stemcells.nih.gov)

A STEM CELL FIRST: Y. Joseph Woo, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, performed a first-of-its-kind procedure in the United States. He took stem cells from a patient's bone marrow (known as endothelial progenitor stem cells) and injected them into his heart during coronary artery bypass graft surgery. The patient felt relief almost immediately. A similar procedure is being done in Europe, but doctors there retrieve the cells while the patient is awake, which can be painful.


Jessica Mikulski
Senior Medical Communications Officer
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine