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'Smart' stem cells help heart failure patients

Treating heart failure patients with a special type of stem cell can improve their condition, according to a new Mayo Clinic study published this week.

The researchers used proteins to instruct the stem cells to behave like heart cells. All of the 45 patients in the clinical trial who received the "smart" stem cells saw more improvements in heart health than another group of patients who were given the standard treatments for heart failure.

The stem cell group's hearts were able to pump more robustly and the patients showed improvements in physical fitness, such as being able to walk longer distances than the patients who didn't receive the cells.

Dr. Andre Terzic, who led the research and is director of Mayo's Center for Regenerative Medicine, said it is the first published study in which smart stem cells were tested on humans.

"I think it's an exciting time where regenerative medicine is no longer science fiction but it's increasingly becoming considered as a viable option for our patients, in particular the patients [who] have many unmet needs that current therapies cannot address," Terzic said.

Terzic said the treatment will be tested on a group of 300 patients before researchers ask federal regulators to approve it, but he said he is hopeful because there were no patients in the current study who saw negative results. The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Terzic said he also thinks the concept can be applied to other conditions.

"It will be, for example, fantastic to see cells instructed to be more neuron-like, to maybe go after some of the neurological disorders, or to be more bone-like to help an orthopedic surgery and so on," he said.