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Stem Cells Show Early Promise for Heart Problems
Date:11/7/2007

But far more research is needed to benefit heart attack patients, studies show

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists are edging toward a better understanding of how stem cells might one day restore function to damaged hearts.

Several studies presented Wednesday at the American Heart Association annual meeting, in Orlando, Fla., addressed different aspects of this promise.

One study found that patients' own stem cells, when injected into the heart after treatment for a heart attack, improved the heart's ability to pump effectively. But this finding is fairly preliminary.

"We're still learning. The area of stem cells still needs lots of understanding," said Dr. Robert Bonow, immediate past president of the heart association and chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "What are the right kinds of cells? How do we train them into cells that are viable and make people better? What are the right kinds of patients? We really don't know that. We're waiting for more data."

The first study involved 80 patients who had recently received treatment (clot-busting drugs and angioplasty) for an ST elevation heart attack (STEMI), the more serious type of heart attack. The patients were randomly assigned to receive either injections of their own bone marrow cells or a placebo.

After six months, patients who had received bone marrow cell therapy saw their global ejection fraction, a measure of the heart's pumping function, improve from 59 percent to 67 percent. The ejection fraction remained unchanged in the placebo group.

"In conclusion, intracoronary injection of autologous [from the patient] bone marrow cells improves left ventricular systolic function in STEMI patients who are treated initially with thrombolytic therapy followed by [angioplasty] two to six days after a heart attack," said Dr. Heikki Huikuri, lead investigator of the trial and professor of med
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