CHICAGO – A team of researchers, led by Dr. Roberto Bolli of the University of Louisville and Dr. Piero Anversa at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, today reported preliminary findings demonstrating that providing heart failure patients adult stem cell transfusions is safe and effective at improving heart function through regenerating heart muscle. Bolli presented the study at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Chicago.
The study is a joint project between Bolli’s team in Louisville and Anversa’s laboratory in Boston. The investigators harvest c-kit positive cardiac stem cells from patients during coronary artery bypass surgery at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. The stem cells are purified in Anversa’s lab from other heart tissue cells and allowed to grow. Once ready, the stem cells are reintroduced into the scarred region of the heart by Bolli’s team using a minimally invasive technique.
To date, 16 patients have received the stem cell infusion from UofL physicians who perform the procedure at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, of which information on nine was presented today.
“The initial results are very encouraging,” said Bolli, director of the Institute of Molecular Cardiology and chief of the Division of Cardiology at the University of Louisville. “For the nine patients of whom we have information four months after receiving infusion of stem cells, their left ventricular function increased by an average of 9 percent. With drug-coated stents implanted after a heart attack, we see an increase of between 4 and 5 percent.”
Bolli noted that in the three patients infused more than a year ago, the increase in heart function has been maintained.
Mike Jones of Jefferson County, Kentucky, is the first person to receive the stem cell infusion in the study.
“I’m doing a whole lot better than I deserve,” Jones said. “While I haven’t gone out jogging, I am able to do a whole lot more with my grandkids. I can play ball with them now, whereas before I could only pass the ball three or four times before I had to stop. I can’t take them on in a real game on the court, but it is a lot more than I could do previously.”
“These results suggest that in patients with heart failure secondary to coronary artery disease, infusion of autologous cardiac stem cells improves systolic function and functional capacity,” Bolli said. “The ultimate goal of this therapy is to reverse the progression of cardiomyopathy by regenerating heart muscle.”
Bolli reiterated that these findings are preliminary and larger-scale studies must be undertaken before the therapy can be widely used.