Stem Cell Therapy: Helping the Body Heal Itself
Stem cells are nature’s own transformers. When the body is injured, stem cells travel the scene of the accident. Some come from the bone marrow, a modest number of others, from the heart itself. Additionally, they’re not all the same. There, they may help heal damaged tissue. They do this by secreting local hormones to rescue damaged heart cells and occasionally turning into heart muscle cells themselves. Stem cells do a fairly good job. But they could do better – for some reason, the heart stops signaling for heart cells after only a week or so after the damage has occurred, leaving the repair job mostly undone. The partially repaired tissue becomes a burden to the heart, forcing it to work harder and less efficiently, leading to heart failure.
Initial research used a patient’s own stem cells, derived from the bone marrow, mainly because they were readily available and had worked in animal studies. Careful study revealed only a very modest benefit, so researchers have moved on to evaluate more promising approaches, including:
- Giving more highly selected stem cells from a donor around the time of a heart attack
- Giving a patient’s own cardiac stem cells late after a heart attack
- Giving highly selected, non-cardiac, stem cells from a donor later after a heart attack
No matter what you may read, stem cell therapy for damaged hearts has yet to be proven fully safe and beneficial. It is important to know that many patients are not receiving the most current and optimal therapies available for their heart failure. If you have heart failure, and wondering about treatment options, an evaluation or a second opinion at a Center of Excellence can be worthwhile.
Randomized clinical trials evaluating these different approaches typically allow enrollment of only a few patients from each hospital, and hence what may be available at the Cleveland Clinic varies from time to time.
Management and Treatment
Important information about stem cell trials
- All stem cell studies have strict protocols, approved by the FDA and the Cleveland Clinic Institutional Review Board for inclusion and exclusion criteria. To insure you meet the criteria, patients need to be evaluated by a physician and may require specific testing at Cleveland Clinic. This testing may take more than one day to complete if you require studies or consultations with multiple physicians.
- Stem cell trials are randomized controlled studies – not all patients who undergo evaluation for stem cell trials will receive stem cell therapy.
- Each study has different protocols and the stem cells are accessed and administered differently, and have different criteria for follow-up. The research team will discuss all aspects of the trial with you in detail prior to signing consent and participating in the trial.
- Patients are not given monetary compensation for testing to determine enrollment into the different studies. Once a patient meets the screening baseline criteria and informed consent has been reviewed and signed, patients are not charged for any therapy or monitoring that is directly related to the research. Travel, lodging and meals are not covered by the studies.
Cleveland Clinic is a large referral center for advanced heart disease and heart failure – we offer a wide range of therapies – including medications, devices and surgery. Patients will be evaluated for the treatments that best address their condition. Whether patients meet the criteria for stem cell therapy – or not, they will be offered the most advanced array of treatment options.
Glossary of stem cell therapy terms
Allogenic: from one person to another (for example: organ transplant)
Autogenic: use of one's own tissue
Myoblasts: immature muscle cells, may be able to change into functioning heart muscle cells
Stem Cells: cells that have the ability to reproduce, generate new cells, and send signals to promote healing
Transgenic: Use of tissue from another species. (for example: some heart valves from porcine or bovine tissue)
For more information and resources
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