November 8, 2012

In a recently published study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health involving 30 patients in Miami, Florida and Baltimore, Maryland who had suffered heart attacks (some as long as 30 years ago) and who had heart failure due to scar tissue, it was found that stem cells donated by strangers was just as effective as the patients’ own stem cells obtained from their own marrow in reducing their scar tissue by about one-third, one year later. As a result, the patients were able to walk farther and had improvement in the quality of their lives even though there was no significant difference in one measure of the ability of their hearts to pump blood. (Scar tissue due to heart attacks can cause the heart muscle to weaken so that the heart has to work harder to do its job; the heart then enlarges as a result and may become flabby, and its efficiency in pumping blood throughout the body is thereby compromised.)

The stem cells were obtained from marrow that was removed by using a needle placed into the hip. The stem cells were then amplified in a lab at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland for approximately one month before they were sent to the University of Miami Hospital in Miami, Florida, where they were placed into patients’ hearts near the scarred areas, using a catheter inserted through an artery in the groin during a procedure that was performed in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. The particular stem cells used in the study lacked a key feature on their surface that would otherwise cause the patients’  immune system to attack them.

The study involved 15 patients who were given their own stem cells from their own marrow and 15 patients who were given stem cells from strangers’ marrow. The study found no significant difference in the results experienced by the two groups.

The important significance of the therapy that uses stem cells from strangers is that no blood or tissue matching is necessary before a patient receives the stem cells, the patient does not need to undergo the painful and time-consuming process of harvesting their own marrow to extract their stem cells, and stem cells can be banked and be readily available when patients need the therapy.

Although the size of the study was small (only 30 patients were involved in the study), the initial results hold out hope that the patients in the study will continue to improve over time and that refinements in the therapy may lead to better results for other patients undergoing the treatment.

Source: The Daily Record, November 7, 2012.

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