A sticking plaster made using stem cells harvested from a patient’s own thigh could be the key to beating heart failure. Researchers have mended damaged hearts using a tiny patch packed with the health-boosting cells.
They glued the patch to the surface of the heart where it shored up damaged areas, helping the existing heart tissue to perform better and so improving the patient’s health.
The Japanese researchers say the therapy is a ‘promising’ long-term solution because current treatment options for heart failure are not ideal, and are all relatively short term. Even with the best care, heart failure is often fatal.
Heart failure is caused either by illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, or can be triggered by an unhealthy lifestyle including smoking, eating a high-fat diet, not exercising and being obese. Treatments include drugs and transplants but with up to 40 per cent of those affected dying within a year of diagnosis, heart failure has a worse survival rate than many cancers.
The Japanese study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, investigated the use of muscle stem cells to repair damaged hearts. Having proved the technique could work in rats, the team from Osaka University chose 27 patients with heart failure who were limited in what exercise they could do and were not responding to other treatments. The trial involved making patches of stem cells from the patients’ own thigh muscles – the vastus medialis which is one of four making up the quadriceps muscle.
The round patches – measuring about one and a half inches across – were then surgically glued into place on the surface of the left ventricle. Stem cells – ‘blank’ cells capable of acting as a repair kit for the body by replacing damaged tissue – encourage the regeneration of blood cells and blood vessels.
Once in place, the implanted tissue cells secreted natural chemicals that encouraged the old tissue to behave differently, helping it to work better. After the operation, the patients suffered no significant complications.