Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stem cells treat heart damage – sometimes

Several conflicting stories have been circulating this week regarding the use of stem cells to treat heart damage after a heart attack. They all came out of the American Heart Association meeting that’s taking place this week in Los Angeles.

One study found that stem cells taken from a heart attack patient’s own bone marrow did help the hearts beat more effectively. Another study found the opposite. Those who got stem cells were no better off than people who didn’t.

A final study found that stem cells taken from either a patient’s own bone marrow or from the bone marrow of a donor could lead to improvements. These patients could walk farther and the scars on their hearts were smaller, but the hearts weren’t actually pumping more blood.

So, what to believe? Do stem cells heal broken hearts?

The answer for now is maybe, to some extent. That’s why scientists carry out clinical trials before giving supposed therapies broadly to people who might not benefit. With each of these trials we have more information about exactly which types of stem cells are effective, when they should be given, how they need to be given and the type of damage each cell type can treat.

There are many more clinical trials currently underway, testing different types of stem cells in different configurations to see if they help heal heart tissue. One of those came out of a CIRM disease team, and recently received more money from CIRM to start the clinical trial. We don’t know if the trial will succeed, but whatever happens those scientists will add another piece to the puzzle of how best to repair heart damage with stem cells.

A.A.

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