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Stem Cells Re-Grow Healthy Heart Muscle

Stem cell transplantation helps restore damaged heart muscle in patients after the heart attack, new clinical trial from a Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute shows. The size of the scar tissue reduces while the healthy heart muscle size increases following the stem cell treatment. The study results are announced online in The Lancet.

To participate in the study, 25 patients who experienced heart attack aged on average 53 were chosen. Extensive imaging scans were done to study scar location and severity in each patient. Seventeen patients received the experimental treatment while eight patients served as a control group. They received only conventional treatment for heart attack patients and followed dietary and exercise advice.

The 17 patients chosen for the stem cell treatment underwent a minimally invasive biopsy. The doctors removed small pieces of a heart tissue through a catheter that was inserted into the vein in the neck under a local anesthesia. The tissue was taken to the laboratory, where 12 to 25 million stem cells were grown for each of the patients in a special cell growing process. At the final stage of the treatment, these cells were introduced back to the patients through a coronary artery in a minimally invasive procedure.

The primary goal of the study was to assess the safety of autologous stem cell transplantation to the patients who experienced heart attack. At the same time, the researchers paid attention to the potential of the treatment in reducing heart scar tissue and re-growing healthy heart muscle. In a year after the treatment, the patients who received the treatment had their scar tissue reduced by about 50 percent on average, while those in the control group did not experience any changes. The effects achieved in humans were even more pronounced than in animal studies.

Stem cell therapy may shift paradigm in treating heart attack patients. Earlier, the doctors were trying to minimize damage to the heart by quickly opening up an occluded artery, and it was believed that once established, scar tissue remained with a patient for the whole life. Now, the study shows that regenerative therapy that may reverse damage to the heart muscle is achievable perspective.