A Cure for Heart Disease That Lurks In Your Own Stem Cells

People who suffer from angina, or clogged arteries around the heart, often feel extreme pain when they exercise. But a new study shows that injections of their own stem cells (pictured) could be a cure.

Researchers at Northwestern University have recently conducted a Phase II trial on a novel stem cell therapy for angina. One of the reasons why angina causes pain is that the clogged arteries deprive your heart muscles of oxygenated blood. When you run or exert yourself, your chest aches to let you know that your heart isn't receiving enough oxygen to function. Prolonged deprivation of oxygen also shuts down parts of the heart muscle entirely.

The Northewestern team hoped to use adult stem cells to strengthen the muscle tissues in the heart that are being shut down. So they used stem cells created by the patients' bone marrow, first filtering those stem cells out of the patients' bloodstreams and then injecting them directly into patients' hearts. This treatment is referred to as using "autologous stem cells," or stem cells from the person being treated (other treatments often use stem cells from donors).

Here are the technical details, according to a release from the University:

All patients were given a drug to stimulate release of CD34+ adult stem cells from the bone marrow, and these cells were then collected from the bloodstream using a process called apheresis. The CD34+ cells were then separated from the other blood components . . . The CD34+ adult stem cells were injected into 10 locations in the heart muscle of patients in the treatment group. Patients in the placebo group received saline. A sophisticated electromechanical mapping technology identified where the heart muscle was alive but not functioning, because it was not receiving enough blood supply.

The best part? The treatment worked.

According to Northwestern:

Six months after the procedure, the autologous stem cell transplant patients were able to walk longer (average of 60 seconds) on a treadmill than the placebo group. It also took longer until they experienced angina pain on a treadmill compared to the placebo group and, when they felt pain, it went away faster with rest. In addition, they had a reduction of episodes of chest pain compared to the control group.

Though these findings are preliminary - this is only stage two of a four-phase trial - Northwestern's findings bode well for the use of autologous stem cell treatments. I'd like to know more about whether the parts of the heart that had shut down were functioning again. Or was the pain lessened for some other reason?

via Northwestern University