Once a heart attack damages tissue, there's no way to heal the injury. This problem has vexed cardiologists for generations. They are left treating symptoms — medicines to reduce built-up fluid, implanted stents to increase blood flow, pacemakers to control beat rhythm.
Many times the treatments work fine, and the patients go on to live normal lives.
Other times, the damage is too great. The heart can't make up for the loss of functioning tissue and steadily declines. The only option for these patients is a heart transplant, which carries its own risks and drawbacks, including a shortage of donor organs and a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs to keep the body from rejecting the new organ.
One recent regenerative medicine study, C-CURE, is providing new hope for patients.
A collaboration spanning two continents and five countries showed stem cell treatment helped improve heart function following a heart attack. The director of Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine, Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., co-led the study, which starts the healing process by harvesting a patient's bone marrow in the hip and extracting its stem cells.
The stem cells are then treated with growth factors to orient them to become heart-like cells and injected directly into the diseased heart. Every patient in the study showed improvement.
"Patients responded favorably both in terms of their cardiac function and structure as well as in terms of their overall fitness," Dr. Terzic says.
Through the Center for Regenerative Medicine, Mayo Clinic will apply the study's lessons to reviving other tissues, such as the liver, lung, nerves, pancreas and skin.
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