Healthy Beginnings

Stem Cells for Heart Disease

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Heart disease is currently the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

“Heart disease” is a general term meaning many kinds of conditions. Coronary artery disease is the most common one and it is the cause of what are called “heart attacks.” This is a lack of adequate oxygen to a segment of heart muscle. Then it can also lead to what is called “heart failure,” which is a weakening of the ability of the heart muscle to contract to pump blood.

Usually the heart muscle cells do not have the ability to replace themselves. If they become damaged by a lack of sufficient oxygen, then instead of healing with new cells, scar tissue — which cannot contract — will form.

About a decade and a half ago, studies began testing the ability of stem cells to regenerate heart tissue. In 2001, reports showed that after injecting stem cells into the damaged wall of heart muscle cells in mice, they grew into new cells, eventually forming new arteries and capillaries.

The scientists found the mice that received the transplanted stem cells survived in greater numbers than mice with heart attacks that did not receive them.

In 2003, a 16-year-old boy from Michigan became the first human to receive experimental stem cell therapy to repair his heart. He had been accidentally shot in the heart with a nail gun. He underwent open-heart surgery, but later suffered a massive heart attack.

Instead of opting for a heart transplant, his parents decided to try stem cells. Using a heart catheter, doctors transplanted his own stem cells (harvested from his bone marrow) into the artery that supplies blood to the front of the heart. After the procedure, his heart showed significant improvement in function.

In 2004, the FDA approved the first clinical trial in the United States to test stem cell therapy for severe heart failure.

In 2007, the International Journal of Cardiology reported on a study that divided 70 cardiac patients into two equal groups. One was injected with stem cells, and the other received placebo. Six months later, the stem cell-treated patients had a significant improvement in heart function. In the control group, there was no improvement.

Interestingly, in 2007, scientists in England were able to grow new human heart valves in a lab. When using the persons’ own stem cells to be able to repair a valve, there is no problem with their immune system rejecting the tissue after surgery.

Between 2010 and 2015, there have been 41 clinical trials done using a special type of stem cell called mesenchymal stem cells, which are derived from umbilical cord blood and placentas from healthy baby births, to treat heart disease.

The majority has shown significant improvement in heart function in cardiac disease patients.

The American Heart Association estimates that 84 million people who are suffering from heart disease today might one day be helped by stem cell treatments.

Robert A. Eslinger, D.O., H.M.D. is head doctor at the Reno Integrative Medical Center at 6110 Plumas St., Ste. B. Visit or call 775-829-1009 to learn more.