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.