Stem cell heart repairs: 21st century medicine in action

Gerard Cuomo loves to dance.

Until recently, however, the 70-year-old couldnt even do a two-step.

After having three heart attacks in the early 1990s, Cuomos heart was severely damaged. The scar tissue that had formed around his heart left him easily fatigued.

I felt like an old man, said Cuomo of Aventura. I could barely climb the stairs. I could walk for about a quarter of a mile. Shopping at the mall I wish I did not have to sit down all the time.

In May 2010, he participated in a University of Miami Miller School of Medicines clinical trial in which doctors injected stem cells directly into his heart muscle. The stem cells, because they are not fully formed, have the potential to grow into different kinds of cells, internalizing information from their environment to determine their future growth.

The study found that the injections built up the healthy heart tissue and reduced scar tissue by 33 percent a dramatic improvement, said Dr. Joshua Hare, director of UMs Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, which conducted the study with Johns Hopkins University. The new tissue remodeled the heart to look more like a healthy, football-shaped heart.

This is a real example of 21st century medicine, said Hare, the Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine in the Cardiovascular Division. Without doing any specific manipulation, we didnt coax them, they knew where to go. They work in ways that make a lot of sense.

The results of the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, were published in November by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Half of the 30 men enrolled in the study received injections of their own stem cells, while the other half got stem cells from a third-party donor.

Using a donor is a huge convenience factor, Hare said. We can store large quantities of the stem cells in a cell bank and use them whenever the need arises.

Cuomos stem cells were extracted from his bone marrow. He had to wait about six weeks after extraction to have them re-injected into his heart. During that time, doctors cultivated and tested the cells.

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Stem cell heart repairs: 21st century medicine in action

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