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Stem Cells May Repair Broken Hearts: December 9, 2011

Jean Burke is forced to monitor issues with her heart.

“I take medications for my heart. I have some narrowed valves, I had fatigue, over the last three or four months. And part of that is due to the heart.”

She is among the growing number of Americans with heart disease, some of whom will eventually suffer permanent damage. Now new research shows that stem cells may be able to repair those broken hearts.

“Patients who’ve had a very large area of heart attack; they may have irreversible heart damage, the heart muscles are dead and there’s really no way for us to bring those back. Stem cells are one of the ways to try and grow new heart cells to replace the ones that are dysfunctional and physically lost,” says Dr. Steven Lee, an interventional cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Initial trials used stem cells taken from bone marrow.

“Some of the earlier trials have not been as promising as we hoped,” says Dr. Lee.

But the latest clinical studies offered a breakthrough. Using cells taken from the patient’s own heart, proved the ability to regenerate new growth and reverse heart damage without side effects.

Doctors still need to replicate these findings before declaring ultimate success, but initial results seem promising.

Jean is not in need of advanced treatment, but doesn’t know what her future holds.

“It hasn’t needed any particular work at this point, but I did have the nuclear stress test just recently and I’ll get the word on that tomorrow.”

Someday doctors may be using stem cell technology, to help the heart heal itself.

“There are some very exciting initial clinical trials, and we hope that in the future we can offer that therapy to patients,” says Dr. Lee.