Excerpt From: Daily Mail / Written By: Colin Fernandez
Patients with critically damaged hearts have been given a new lease of life by stem cell injections during a ground breaking trial.
The pioneering approach reversed the scar tissue in a trial of 11 seriously ill patients who had suffered heart attacks. Scarring was reduced by 40 per cent, compared to 5-10 per cent with current drug therapies.
The therapy could also benefit millions who have suffered heart failure and it is hoped that the stem cell therapy may make it unnecessary to replace damaged hearts with transplants.
The operations were conducted between November 2012 and September 2013 and none of the patients were expected to live longer than 24 months. But the patients are all still alive and more active than they had been previously following the implantation of stem cells created by British firm Celixir, founded by Nobel laureate Professor Sir Martin Evans.
A larger trial is planned at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London later this year.
Surgeon Professor Steve Westaby, of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, told the Sunday Telegraph: “These were patients with stage three heart failure who were expected to die within about two years. These were patients who were forced to sleep propped up in bed, who were always short of breath, who couldn’t put their shoes because their feet ankles and feet were swollen. We took these cells and put them into patients and had the most astonishing results. Scarred heart muscle doesn’t really improve at all so to see that happening was remarkable.”
Severe heart failure is most often caused by a heart attack whereby the muscles of the heart become damaged and scarred and struggle to pump blood around the body. Any movement such as walking up stairs becomes extremely difficult.
Numbers of heart failure patients are rising: up to 146,000 in 2014 were admitted to hospital, up 36 per cent on 2004-2005.
The stem cells promote regeneration of the heart muscle.
Ajan Reginald, who founded Celixir with Sir Martin in 2009, said: “What we saw was a significant reduction in scarring. As scientist we are always quite cynical and we didn’t expect this result at all. There is a caveat in that it is only 11 patients, but we never expected them to still be alive three years later. Most drugs only make a 5-10 per cent improvement but his reduced scarring by 40 per cent. This kind of improvement has a huge impact on patients’ lives.”
The British Heart Foundation said further trials were needed to check that the improvements were not simply the result of a successful bypass operation.
Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, said: “This very small study suggests that targeted injection into the heart of carefully prepared cells from a healthy donor during bypass surgery is safe. It is difficult to be sure that the cells had a beneficial effect because all patients were undergoing bypass surgery at the same time – which would usually improve heart function. A controlled trial with substantially more patients is needed to determine whether injection of these types of cells proves any more effective than previous attempts to improve heart function in this way, which have so far largely failed.”