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Stem cells will help repair hearts

A new stem cell treatment may help restore dead heart muscle - something that once was thought impossible in medical practice. According to Allstar trial, cardiac stem cells from donors can boost the heart’s natural ability to restore its functions by replacing non-functional scar tissue with the healthy heart muscle cells.

Three centers are testing the stem cell therapy from a Los Angeles biotech company Capricor. The latter gets the cells from donor hearts, cultivates them until their counts reach the amount needed for therapy and sends them to doctors taking part in the trial. They then transplant the cells into the coronary artery. From there, the cells are expected to migrate to the heart and help restore lost functions.  

The Phase 1 of the trial, aimed to mainly evaluate safety, is successfully over. Capricor said that they had received permission to launch Phase 2, which main aim is to examine efficacy of the treatment. The trial will involve about 300 patients in main and control group.

The scientists are hopeful that the treatment will prove effective and they have reason to expect so. Their previous trials involving autologous (patients’ own) stem cells showed evidence of working: the scar tissue shrank and the viable grew. The study dispelled the long-held belief that heart muscle can’t be restored.

However, in this trial, donor cells are given preference over autologous cells for practical reasons. They can be stored in advance and used when needed. Moreover, they are less expensive.

The study is based on the finding by Capricor researchers that the heart contains stem (progenitor) cells that can turn into new heart tissue cells. In contrast to embryonic stem cells able to give rise to all body cells, “adult” progenitor cells are predestined to differentiate into heart cells only. These cells normally exist in a human body and make necessary small repairs, but when it comes to repairing massive heart injuries their quantities are inadequate. So adding donor cells my help. These cells are unlikely to be rejected as they are to some extent “immunoprivileged,” as scientists explain.