Heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the heart. The most common of these is coronary artery disease. When left untreated, heart disease can lead to serious complications, such as heart failure or heart attack.
When you think of treatments for heart disease, medications and lifestyle changes probably come to mind. What if we could repair the damage caused by heart disease using stem cells?
Could this be the new frontier in the treatment of heart disease? Keep reading to learn more.
Our body is made up of a diverse amount of cell types with varying shapes and functions. For example, a nerve cell has very different characteristics and tasks from a muscle cell.
All of these cell types come from stem cells, a type of cell that can create other, more specialized cells. Stem cells can also self-renew, which means they can divide to produce more stem cells.
Generally speaking, there are two types of stem cells. Let’s take a look at these now.
Adult stem cells
Adult stem cells currently exist in our body, but only in certain types of tissue, such as bone marrow, brain, and skin. The function of adult stem cells is to replace cells that are lost through injury or normal wear and tear.
For example, hematopoietic stem cells in your bone marrow can turn into different types of blood cells in your body. Mesenchymal stem cells, also found in bone marrow, can become muscle, bone or fat cells.
Pluripotent stem cells
Pluripotent stem cells can become any type of cell in the human body. In nature, these stem cells are found during the early development of human embryos. These are called embryonic stem cells.
However, scientists have now found a way to reprogram certain types of adult stem cells to become pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells.
Currently, the only stem cell products approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are those that use hematopoietic stem cells from blood or bone marrow. These stem cells are approved for transplant procedures to treat blood conditions such as:
In this therapy, doctors use high-dose radiation or chemotherapy to destroy bone marrow cells. After that, doctors infuse the stem cells into the bone marrow. The goal is for the stem cells to restore a bone marrow that produces healthy blood cells.
Since stem cells can grow into other types of cells, they are also being researched as a therapy for various health conditions. The hope is that stem cells will be able to regenerate damaged or injured tissue.
An example is neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). These conditions cause progressive damage to the nervous system and do not yet have a cure.
Other conditions for which stem cell therapy is being researched include diabetes, eye conditions, and cancer.
Heart disease causes damage to heart tissue. It is often difficult for the heart to repair this damage after it has occurred.
Researchers have begun studying the use of stem cells to repair damage caused by heart disease in hopes of helping restore heart function. But this research is still at a relatively early stage.
Studies for this type of therapy have included both pluripotent stem cells and adult stem cells. Some of the most promising results come from the use of mesenchymal stem cells, a kind of adult stem cell.
Doctors can deliver stem cells by several different methods. These include:
- direct injection into the heart
- introduction into the coronary arteries
- intravenous (IV) infusion
There is still a lot to learn. Here are some examples of the many open questions:
- How many stem cells do you need to donate for the treatment to be effective?
- How well do stem cells survive after entering the heart? What can we do to improve this survival?
- Is a single treatment enough to help tissue recovery? If not, how many treatments are needed?
- Is the timing of treatment important? Is it more effective right after the damage has occurred? Can it still be used when the damage is months or even years old?
- How does stem cell therapy work with existing treatments for heart disease?
- How safe is stem cell therapy for heart disease? Are there any concerning side effects?
Stem cell therapy can help reverse the damage caused by heart attacks, says a
The researchers found that a heart attack changes the levels of 450 different proteins in the heart. However, stem cell therapy totally or partially reversed these changes in 65% of the proteins.
Researchers also found that stem cell therapy reduced major cardiac events in people with heart failure, according to data presented to the American Heart Association.
The study included 537 people with heart failure. Of these people, 261 received an injection of stem cells into their hearts and 276 underwent a sham procedure. The participants were then observed for 30 months.
Compared to the control group, those who received the stem cells had a 65% reduction in non-fatal heart attacks and strokes. However, there was no reduction in heart failure hospitalizations in the stem cell group.
Another important finding is that stem cell treatment reduced the number of cardiac deaths by 80% in people with class 2 heart failure.
The search was not without setbacks, however. A
Researchers are still trying to assess the safety of stem cell therapy for heart disease. Some potential safety issues with this type of processing include the following:
- Stem cells can develop into different types of heart muscle cells, which respond differently to electrical signals that trigger the heartbeat. Many different cell types in an area can impact treatment effectiveness or cause arrhythmia.
- Certain types of stem cells have the potential to form a type of tumor called a teratoma.
- A person’s immune system can reject stem cells.
More research, both in the laboratory and in clinical trials, will be needed to fully understand the risks associated with stem cell therapy for heart disease.
Stem cell therapy has great potential for treating various conditions, including heart disease. These therapies aim to repair the damage caused by heart disease and restore heart function.
More recent studies have shown that stem cell therapy can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in some people with heart failure. Animal studies have suggested it may also help reverse some damage caused by a heart attack.
These findings are promising. However, there is still much research to be done on the effectiveness and safety of these interventions before they can be used on a larger scale.