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Can donated stem cells be used to treat damaged hearts?

Written by Admin |Published : November 6, 2012 12:38 PM IST

According to new research, stem cells from the bone marrow of healthy donors proved to be as safe and effective or even better as cells harvested from patients' own cells for treating damaged hearts. They are also more convenient to use. The 13-month trial by researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, funded by the National Institutes of Health, involved 30 patients and was the first to compare the safety and effectiveness of mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow of patients themselves as against those provided by donors. The results were revealed at an American Heart Association conference in California on Monday and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It proposes a probability of stem cells to be banked, just as blood is kept. Though adult stem cells have been used for 40 years in bone marrow transplants, researchers are now exploring their use for treating conditions like heart disease. Pointing that previously prepared cells from a healthy donor were comparatively safe, the researchers said that it would also be most convenient since it takes up to eight weeks to grow the required stem cells.

'You could have the cells ready to go in the blood bank so when the patient comes in for a therapy there's no delay. It's also cheaper to make the donor cells,' said the study's leader, Dr Joshua Hare, adding that as many as 10 people could be treated with supply from a single marrow donor.

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The patients' own stem cells do not trigger an attack by the body's immune system. The study used mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow which the researchers say are also not recognized as foreign tissue.

The study involved 30 patients with damaged heart by an earlier heart attack. Half of them received heart muscle injections of their own cells, while the other half received donor cells. According to researchers scar tissue was reduced by 33 percent in both groups, which was a 'very, very significant' result. 28 percent of those receiving donor cells and 50 percent of patients receiving their own cells showed improvements in heart function. Eight patients who received their own cells and five in the donor cell group suffered serious adverse events after a year.

Praising the work, Dr. Elliott Antman of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said, 'That opens up an entire new avenue for stem cell therapy, like a sophisticated version of a blood bank. There's an advantage in not having to create a cell therapy for each patient, and it could spare them the pain and wait of having their own marrow harvested.' Dr Antman also heads the heart conference.

'The trials so far have very small patient numbers. I think this early work in cardiac stem cells look very promising,' said Stefanie Dimmeler, director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Regeneration Center of Molecular Medicine at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.

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