“Astonishing” Stem Cell Breakthough As Doctors Reverse Scarring In Heart Attack Survivors
Unprecedented results after scientists conduct stem cell therapy trial and raise hopes in saving the lives of thousands who die each year from heart failure.
Surgeons at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, working with Greek specialists Polychronis Antonitsis and Kryiakos Anastasiadis of the General University Hospital of Thessaloniki, witnessed “astonishing” recoveries from all 11 participants of the stem cell trial.
The trial consisted of seriously ill patients who were suffering from severe heart failure. Due to the severity of their condition, they received stem cell injections along with bypass surgery. The surgeons wanted to do all they could to improve the outlook for the patients who were each given less than 24 months to live.
“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 and ankles were swollen.” — Surgeon Professor Westaby of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford
Before the trial, scarring of heart muscle associated with a heart attack was thought to be irreversible. Doctors were attempting to achieve the impossible. Yet it certainly didn’t deter their efforts, and today they’ve been rewarded by becoming the first in history to show that stem cell therapy can reverse scarring of heart muscle associated with a heart attack.
Doctors achieved the impossible, but they didn’t stop there
“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.” —Prof. Wetsby
Heart failure affects the lives of 900,000 people in Britain; a figure which, according to recent studies by the British Heart Foundation, has risen 36 percent over a period of 10 years between 2004-05 and 2014-15.
More and more people are being admitted to hospital with the incurable condition each year. A third of which are dying within the first 12 months.
From earlier trials which Prof Westaby conducted on children with conditions affecting the coronary artery, a reversal of scarring in the heart muscle was recorded over time. But scientists believed this was due to the kinds of stem cells we have as young children, and every attempt to replicate the results in adults had been unsuccessful.
In the John Radcliffe trial, stem cells from donors were collected and programmed in a lab — the exact process of which is undisclosed — before being injected around the area of the scar tissue.
The stem cells soon got to work, dampening inflammation and promoting regeneration of the patient’s damaged heart cells.
“The cells go around the scarring and effectively nibble away the edges, helping to regenerate the scarred areas…They also secrete factors that stop the progression of heart failure. The cells have the ability to modulate the immune system. We think it’s actually regenerating the cells rather than producing new ones.” —Ajan Reginald, Co-founder of Celixir
The surgeons hadn’t just achieved the impossible, they’d completely blown conventional thought out the water, reducing scarring among the patients by up to 40 percent.
There is reason to be hesitant, however. Patients underwent bypass surgery at the same time as receiving the stem cell injections, and thus more controlled trials need to be done to determine the effectiveness of stem cell therapy as a stand alone treatment.
That being said, the scientists who were initially quite cynical didn’t expect to see any positive results at all. They could never have imagined that three years later, all 11 of the patients who took part in the trial would still be alive and well today – stem cell therapy may just be the way forward.
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