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Finding Ways to Heal Hearts with Stem Cells

The Texas Heart Institute at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Hospital is starting a new study to see if heart attack victims can benefit from stem cells. Houston Public Radio’s Capella Tucker reports.



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Researchers are trying to determine if stem cells injected directly into the heart will prevent damage following a heart attack.

Principal investigator Doctor Emerson Perin says the research is also trying to determine the most effective type of stem cell to use.

“We can target the cells of that area with the idea that we need to promote better healing and really attempt to not have the patient go down that road of development of heart failure and having the heart dialate so we really want to try to improve healing.”

The treatment is meant for only certain types of severe heart attacks. Perin says the timing of the treatment is also important. There has to be damage to the heart, but not permanent damage.

“If we give the cells a little to early there is a little too much inflammation in the heart in the first few days if we give it too late, it may be actually too late to affect a change at the level of healing of heart attack since at that point collagen and other things, scar tissue is really being placed into the area of the heart attack.”

Two research groups in Germany are pursuing similar lines of research, but the type of stem cell used and how it’s delivered to the patient are different. Previous research at the Texas Herat Institute used stem cells from the patient. In this case, stem cells are donated from the bone marrow of another person.

“When you are going to treat a patient with a heart attack, that just had a heart attack, with stem cells it’s not ideal to go into his bone marrow, put the patient through certain procedures. It would be better if we had cells that are ready to go.”

The particular type of stem cell being used is rare in bone marrow, but everybody has them. Texas Heart Institute President-elect, Doctor James Willerson, says another source that everybody has is fat cells.

“I’m sure there will be another use for liposuction in the future.”

Researchers have one patient enrolled in the study and will be adding another 24 in the coming months. Willerson says it’s his hope that, despite the controversy over stem cell research, accepted stem cell therapies will be in practice in five years. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.