New stem cell approach to treating heart failure shows promise

12th August 2015

A new way of getting more stem cells into damaged heart muscle has shown early promise in treating severe heart failure, say researchers.

In a preliminary study, they found the method was safe and feasible for the 48 heart failure patients they treated. And after a year, the patients on average showed a modest improvement in the heart's pumping ability, said the team led by Dr Amit Patel, director of cardiovascular regenerative medicine at the University of Utah in America.

He said it was not yet clear whether the improvements were meaningful but larger trials were now underway to see whether the approach could be a treatment option..

Researchers have been studying using stem cells as a potential heart failure treatment, including for those with dilated cardiomyopathy, for many years -- with limited success so far.

What is new in this research, also involving specialists in Germany, is how the stem cells are delivered to the body. As in some previous trials the researchers took stem cells from patients’ bone marrow but this time they put them into the heart through a large vein called the coronary sinus.

Dr Patel said: "Most other techniques have infused stem cells through the arteries.” One obstacle of that was that people with heart failure often had hardened, narrowed coronary arteries, and the infused stem cells did not always go where the researchers wanted them to, he said.

Researchers have also tried to directly inject stem cells directly into the heart during surgery or through a catheter. But Dr Patel said that only a limited number of cells could be safely injected that way.

The new approach, he said, allows a bigger stem cell dose.

Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. Scientists hope that one day they will be able to get stem cells to help repair heart muscle damage.