Scarred hearts healed by stem cell treatment after heart attack

By Jenny Hope

Last updated at 1:03 PM on 14th February 2012

Breakthrough: The heart's own stem cells can be used to heal it, according to a new study

The heart’s own stem cells can be used to repair damage caused to it, scientists say.

They help the organ re-grow healthy muscle after a heart attack, a clinical trial shows.

The procedure was found to halve the size of scar left on a patient’s heart muscle and led to a ‘sizeable increase’ in healthy muscle.

Scientists said this discovery challenges a belief that scarring is permanent and that, once lost, healthy heart muscle cannot be restored.

One year after receiving the experimental treatment, scar size was reduced on average from 24 per cent to 12 per cent of the heart.

Patients who did not receive the heart stem cells had no reduction.

Results from the U.S. study, published online in The Lancet medical journal, offer hope for patients with heart failure, where the pumping action is diminished.

Researcher Eduardo Marb?n, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, said: ‘While the primary goal of our study was to verify safety, we also looked for evidence that the treatment might dissolve scar and re-grow lost heart muscle.

‘The effects are substantial, and surprisingly larger in humans than they were in animal tests.’

Shlomo Melmed, dean of the Cedars-Sinai medical faculty, said the treatment could mark a new era in heart medicine. ‘This study shows there is a regenerative therapy that may actually reverse the damage caused by a heart attack,’ he said.


As an initial part of the trial in 2009, Mr Marb?n and his team completed the world’s first procedure in which a patient’s own heart tissue was used to grow specialised heart stem cells.

Hope: Researchers from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, pictured, described the effects of the stem cells as 'substantial'

These cells were then injected back into their hearts. All the patients monitored – with an average age of 53 – had survived heart attacks.

Eight served as controls, receiving conventional care including prescription medicine, exercise recommendations and dietary advice.

The other 17 allocated to receive the stem cells had a minimally invasive biopsy, under local anaesthesia.

Previous trials have shown remarkable results from using stem cells, but they have been taken from different areas of a patient’s body.

Stem cells can become almost any type of cell, but are in short supply in adult organs.

Several thousand patients worldwide have received them from  bone marrow, but this trial seems to confirm cardiac stem cells may be the most effective for heart damage.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, of the British Heart Foundation charity, said the results were encouraging.



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Scarred hearts healed by stem cell treatment after heart attack

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