One day, patients with damaged hearts may not have to wait for a donor heart or rely indefinitely on an artificial, mechanical replacement. That's the hope of Mayo Clinic investigators collaborating with Belgian physicians.
The landmark work of Mayo Clinic researchers Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., and Atta Behfar M.D., Ph.D., shows that adult human stem cells can be programmed to effectively heal, repair and regenerate damaged heart tissue.
Stem cells, found in bone marrow, placentas and umbilical cords, are the body's raw materials. They are the cells from which all other cells, including those with specialized functions, are generated. Under the right conditions, stem cells can divide into specialized cells such as those for the heart muscle. No other cell in the body has this natural ability to generate new cell types.
Stem cells isolated from patients normally have a limited capacity to repair the heart. But the innovative technology of Drs. Terzic and Behfar boosted the regenerative benefit by programming stem cells to acquire a cardiac-like profile. Primed by a mixture of recombinant cardiogenic growth factors, the stem cells harvested from the bone marrow of patients with coronary artery disease showed "superior functional and structural benefit without adverse side effects" over a one-year follow-up, according to their study.
"These findings provide proof-of-principle that 'smart' adult stem cells have added benefit in repairing the heart, providing the foundation for further clinical evaluation," says Dr. Terzic.
"The successful use of guided 'lineage specified' human stem cells is based on natural cardiogenic cues," says Dr. Behfar.
The cardiogenic specialty cells, which the researchers created, healed heart tissue more effectively. Human cardiac and vascular cells also started participating in the regeneration, repair and strengthening of heart structures. Old scars and other vestiges of heart damage even began to fade away.
These initial findings have paved the way for safety and feasibility trials in humans. Ultimately, there is hope that scientists could develop effective regenerative medicine therapies for patients with chronic heart failure. In other words, scientists could potentially turn adult stem cells into functional heart cells, giving patients fresh hope.
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the Marriott Heart Disease Research Program, Cardio 3 Biosciences, the Ted Nash Long Life Foundation, the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation, the Mayo Clinic General Mills Clinician-Investigator Fellowship, and Mayo Clinic.
Mayo Clinic and Drs. Terzic and Behfar have a financial interest associated with technology related to this research program. In accordance with the Bayh-Dole Act, Mayo Clinic has licensed that technology to Cardio 3 Biosciences in exchange for equity. No royalties have accrued to date to the institution or the inventors.