And here is another first one: injection of autologous heart-specific stem cells for the treatment of myocardial infarction or heart attack. So far, two patients have received the treatment and 22 more are expected to receive it as part of a Phase I clinical trial.
The cardiac-specific stem cells, also called cardiosphere-derived cells, have been observed to develop into mature heart cells.
According to researcher Dr Raj R Makkar of Cedars Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles, CA:
“This is the first time we have injected cardiac-specific cells into a human. These cells are destined to be heart-muscle cells, so this is attractive in that sense-we are trying to obtain cardiogenesis.”
Here is how the procedure works:
Using a process called endomysocardial biopsy, a fine catheter is inserted in a vein in the neck or the groin up to the heart to obtain cells from the inner walls of the organ. The cells are then cultured in the lab for a period of four to six weeks until they have become cardiosphere-derived cells. A large number of these cells (12 to 25 million) are then injected back into the patients, at the sites of the artery that caused the heart attack, again a catheter.
The advantages of this technique is that
- the cells are back into the area that caused the myocardial infarction
- the cells are autologous, e.g. coming from the patient himself/herself (source and recipient is one and the same) so that the risk of rejection is very minimal.
According to lead investigator Dr Eduardo Marbán who developed the technique
“This procedure signals a new and exciting era in the understanding and treatment of heart disease. Five years ago, we didn’t even know the heart had its own distinct type of stem cells. Now we are exploring how to harness such stem cells to help patients heal their own damaged hearts.”
The use of Autologous Stem Cell Treatment (ASCT) is the latest trend in stem-cell based therapy and its use is not only limited to heart disease but also to neurodegenerative disorders and cancer.