The Framingham health study indicates that about 1 in 5 (both men and women) persons will develop heart failure over the course of their lives. Once there is a myocardial infarction (MI, “heart attack”), current therapy employs drug therapy, but that does not treat the underlying cause(s). There is a loss of heart tissue that requires regeneration and repair.
Dr. B.E. Strauer and colleagues(Heinrich-Heine University in Dusseldorf), have been employing stem cell therapy to address that (regeneration and repair) issue. However, instead of using embryo-based stem cell cultures, their studies have taken cells from the patient’s own bone marrow (pelvic region) and converted them to cardiomyocytes (myocardial cells). They (Strauer and Kornowski) had published
previously (2003) that bone marrow had both hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells; both of which could contribute to heart muscle repair.
At the recent (2010) European Society of Cardiology Congress (and published in the European Journal of Heart Failure), a study of 391 patients was presented. These patients (all exhibiting ischemic cardiomyopathy) had experienced MI between three and eight years previously. About ½ (191) underwent stem cell treatment; the others were unwilling to participate in the stem cell injections (and, therefore, served as a control for the experiment). Follow-up examinations occurred at 3 and 12 months, as well as five (5) years post therapy.
The benefits from the stem cells were seen as early as three months and continued for the five year study period. There seems to be a notable decrease in mortality- the control group (untreated) had a mortality of 3.68% per year (32 patient deaths); the treated group had a mortality of some 0.75% per year (7 patient deaths). There also was an increased ejection fraction (amount of blood pumped out of the ventricles with each heart beat) after 5 years post stem cell treatment (29.4% v 36.8%), as opposed to decreased levels with the controls (36.1 v. 32.3%).
It may be possible that the method of stem-cell administration was as critical to the results as the injection of the stem cells themselves. Once the stem cells were delivered to the infarcted area (via a balloon catheter), the catheter was inflated to preclude backflow of cells and extend the contact period for the cells; the inflation of the balloon provided an ischemic condition that probably enhanced cell uptake by the heart.