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Can Stem Cell Patches Help Heart Problems?

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Can Stem Cell Patches Help Heart Problems?

Heart problems are very prevalent in Ireland but thankfully science has come a long way with been able to treat them effectively.  In a recent study researchers used grafts of heart tissue cells to repair failing hearts in guinea pigs.  The researchers are now in the process of testing the same method in larger animals.  They are working towards using the same procedure in human trials.  The study’s co – author Thomas Eschenhagen, is a professor of experimental pharmacology and toxicology at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf – UKE in Germany.  Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) – including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and other circulatory diseases. CVD is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for 33% of all deaths. The largest number of these deaths relate to CHD – mainly heart attack – at 5,000. 13% of premature deaths (under age 65) are from CVD.  The heart damage that accompanies heart failure often leads to a loss of heart muscle tissue. This loss is essentially irreversible, because heart muscle tissue cannot regenerate itself, the researchers said.

Some scientists are concerned that human cells won’t survive when they are inserted into a person’s body.  In the new study the researchers used a combination of two types of cells that were made from human stem cells: heart muscle cells and cells called endothelial cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels. The scientists constructed strips of heart muscle tissue from these two types of cells and then stitched the heart muscle tissue grafts into the four guinea pigs’ hearts. The reason the researchers used guinea pigs as models is because in some ways they resemble human hearts.

The researchers discovered that over the 28 days that followed the implantation procedure, the heart muscle grafts not only integrated with the animal’s damaged hearts but also formed new heart muscle.  The results of this study were published on Thursday November 2nd in the Journal Science Translation Medicine. The guinea pigs’ hearts ability to pump blood had improved by 31 percent after they had been given the implants. The researchers also used a group of guinea pigs as a control.  They inflicted the same heart problems in the guinea pigs as the previous ones, but then treated them with patches of material that didn’t contain cells, as well as various types of control patches.  These patches were found to have no effect on the guinea pigs’ heart to pump blood. The findings indicate that three-dimensional heart muscle grafts can restore damaged hearts, at least in this animal type. Hopefully this procedure will be used to restore injured human hearts one day.

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