ABC News reports on research from the Lancet - Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and The Johns Hopkins University harvested stem cells from the hearts of 17 heart attack patients and after prepping the cells, infused them back into the patients' hearts.
The patients received the stem cell infusions about three months after their heart attacks.
Researchers found that six months after treatment, patients had significantly less scarring of the heart muscle and also showed a considerable increase the amount of healthy heart muscle, compared to eight post-heart attack patients studied who did not receive the stem cell infusions. One year after, scar size was reduced by about 50 percent.
"The damaged tissue of the heart was replaced by what looks like healthy myocardium," said Dr. Peter Johnston, a study co-author and an assistant professor of medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's functioning better than the damaged myocardium in the control subjects, and there's evidence it's starting to contract and generate electrical signals the way healthy heart tissue does."
While this research is an early study designed to demonstrate that this stem cell therapy is safe, cardiologists say it's an approach that could potentially benefit millions of people who have suffered heart attacks. Damage to the heart muscle is permanent and irreparable, and little can be done to compensate for loss of heart function.
"In the U.S., six million patients have heart failure, and the vast majority have it because of a prior heart attack," said Johnston.
The next steps, he said, include determining what the optimal cell types are and how much of the cells are needed to regenerate damaged tissue.
"We also need to move to larger clinical trials and measure whether patients are improving clinically and exhibiting a better quality of life after the therapy."
"This stategy might work in other organs," he said. "Maybe this can work in the brain, perhaps for people who had strokes."
Leading causes of death in the USA
Final data from 2009
Heart disease: 599,413
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
Alzheimer's disease: 79,003
Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909
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