How To Mend A Broken Heart (With What You Got)

83-heartbiopsy.jpgThe scope of regenerative medicine is rapidly expanding. New Organ Mprize exists to shepherd that dynamic movement and with your continued support, results like these from Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles will no longer be the exception, but the rule. What a global relief that would be…

According to the World Health Organization, heart disease remains the No.1 cause of death in the world. If the trend is allowed to continue, by 2015, an estimated 20 million people will die from cardiovascular disease, mostly from heart attack and stroke. In 2005 alone, 7.6 million people died of heart attack– the population of Switzerland. Now, about one million Americans suffer from heart attack annually. Of these, about 400,000 die.

After a heart attack, the damaged parts of the organ are gradually filled in with scar tissue, which keeps the heart from functioning at full strength. Then heart attack patients leave the hospital with the uncomfortable knowledge of their heightened likelihood for another attack down the road. It’s just a nasty situation.

But with exciting progress like this in regenerative therapies, the statistics may change forever in the near future. The entire ball game may change. The great news?

Re-injected stem cells derived from a patient’s own heart muscle are reported to successfully regenerate damaged heart tissue and reduce the size of scars from a prior heart attack.

The researchers explain in a video that doctors “are examining whether treating a patient with their cardiac stem cells can literally reduce the size of the scar and restore health function to the heart after a heart attack.”

As reported in The Lancet, the answer is a resounding YES.

17 patients received the therapy about three months after their heart attacks. According to Fox News’ John Roberts, Dr. Eduardo Marban “measured an average 50 percent reduction in the size of the scar tissue” from the patients, a year after the therapy.

Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? Myocardial infarction means irreversible heart muscle death. Dead muscle tissue then eventually turns into scar tissue. This success is phenomenal. It’s like making a gourmet French dinner out of meatloaf leftovers. Or perhaps nothing like that.

“One of the holy grails in medicine has been the use of medicine to achieve regeneration,” Marban said. “Patients that were treated not only experience shrinkage of their scars, but also new growth of their heart muscle, which is very exciting.”

What was the process like? A catheter was first inserted into the diseased hearts to take a small biopsy of muscle. The tissue was then manipulated into producing stem cells. “After a few weeks of marinating in culture, researchers had enough stem cells to re-inject them into the patients’ hearts,” Roberts reports. “Over the course of a year, the stem cells took root in cardiac tissue, encouraging the heart to create new muscle and blood vessels. In other words, the heart actually began to mend itself.”

“Patients that were treated not only experienced shrinkage in their scars, but also new growth of their heart muscle, which is very exciting.”

84-eduardomarban.jpgMarban told Roberts, “We’ve achieved what we have achieved using adult stem cells – in this case – actually specifically from a patient’s own heart back into the same patient. There’s no ethical issues with that – there’s no destruction of embryos.” In addition because the stems are the patient’s own, “There’s no reason to worry about immune rejection,” Marban explained.

“If we can do that in the heart, I don’t see any reason, conceptually, why we couldn’t do it in kidneys for example, or pancreas or other organs that have very limited regenerative capacity,” Marban said.

Interestingly, it appears that the stem cells themselves may not have turned into cardiac muscle, “but rather they stimulated the heart to produce new muscle cells,” Roberts reported.

Marban told Roberts that the applications could go well beyond diseased hearts.

“As Dr. Marban notes, there is no reason adult stem cells couldn’t be used to repair other organs as well,” Prentice said. ” Besides acute and chronic heart damage as well as angina, studies have already shown initial success using adult stem cells to treat a myriad of conditions, including spinal cord injury, stroke, juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, and dozens more.”


Andrusko, Dave. “Use of Patient’s Own Stem Cells Could Regenerate Damaged Heart Muscle After Heart Attack.” National Right to Life News Today. NRL News Today, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.

Makkar, Raj R., Rachel R. Smith, Ke Cheng, Konstantinos Malliaras, Louise EJ Thomson, and Daniel Berman. “Intracoronary Cardiosphere-derived Cells for Heart Regeneration after Myocardial Infarction (CADUCEUS): A Prospective, Randomised Phase 1 Trial.” The Lancet. Elsevier Limited, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.

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