In a heartening news for patients with severe ischemic heart disease and heart failure, a new human trial shows that stem cells, when injected directly into the heart muscle, are effective for failing hearts.
"Our results show that this stem cell treatment is safe and it improves heart function when compared to placebo," said Anders Bruun Mathiasen, a research fellow in the cardiac catherisation lab at Rigshospitalet University Hospital Copenhagen, Denmark.
This has the potential to benefit many people who suffer from this common and deadly disease, he added.
Ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, results from a gradual buildup of plaque in the heart's coronary arteries and can lead to chest pain, heart attack and heart failure.
In the study, researchers injected a type of bone marrow stem cell known as mesenchymal stromal cells directly into the heart muscle of a group of patients with chronic ischemic heart failure.
Six months after treatment, patients who received stem cell injections had improved heart pump function compared to patients receiving a placebo.
"The procedure to inject stem cells into the heart requires only local anesthesia so it appears to be a promising treatment for patients who have no other options," Mathiasen mentioned.
Although there are other therapies available for patients with ischemic heart disease, these therapies do not help all patients and many patients continue to face fatigue, shortness of breath and accumulation of fluid in the lungs and legs.
Previous studies have shown mesenchymal stromal cells can stimulate repair and regeneration in a variety of tissues, including heart muscle.
Mathiasen said in the case of ischemic heart failure, the treatment likely works by facilitating the growth of new blood vessels and new heart muscle.
A larger, Phase III clinical trial is needed to move toward approval of this treatment as a more widely used therapy for ischemic heart failure, Mathiasen added.
The research was presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session recently.