Growing a Broken Heart

The heart is an amazing device in itself but has one major drawback: once damaged, it has a limited ability to repair itself.  So, calling the use of your own cells to repair damaged heart tissue “groundbreaking” is an understatement!

However, Dr. Warren Sherman, MD, FACC, FSCAI Director, Cardiac Cell-Based Endovascular Therapies Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy, Columbia University Medical Center, is a leading authority on autologous cell therapy and explained its potential to me.  He stated, “We’re looking at cell therapy for the treatment of heart muscle disease after it’s been damaged, meaning weeks, months, or years after it’s been damaged.  For patients with congestive heart failure, the impact could be huge.”

Autologous cell therapy is a process that uses a patient’s own cells to repair the damaged myocardium and consists of several steps.  The first step involves obtaining adult stem cells through a muscle biopsy of the patient’s thigh.  Next, the cells are cultured in a lab to separate immature cells; finally, millions of cells are implanted in the heart tissue by either an open or percutaneous, minimally invasive procedure using the femoral artery.

There have been multiple clinical trials focused on when and where in the heart tissue to deliver the cell therapy.  These studies have shown that the timing of cell delivery after AMI (acute myocardial infarction) may be one of the most important criteria in determining the efficacy of the therapy.  When delivering in a one to seven day time frame, patients experienced LVEF (left ventricular ejection fraction) improvement by 6 to 9%.  Delivery of the cells up to three months after a MI enabled a 3 to 5% improved LVEF.

Considering what it takes to treat the 5 million Americans suffering from congestive heart failure, this could be nothing short of revolutionary.  Over 300,000 patients per year will never fully recover from a heart attack, and the Business Group on Health reports that the average cost of treating these patients starts at $1 million.  The routine use of autologous cell therapy is still several years away, but its potential impact already has people excited.

James Laskaris, EE, BME
James Laskaris, EE, BME, Clinical Analyst — Mr. James Laskaris is a senior emerging technology analyst at MD Buyline and has been with the company since 1994. With over 30 years of experience in the healthcare field, Mr. Laskaris is the primary analyst of high-end OR technology. He also covers issues related to the legislative and reimbursement effect on healthcare and authors a bimonthly “Issues that Matter” publication. Mr. Laskaris received his biomedical engineering degree from Southern Illinois University. His work has been published in hfm Magazine, Radiology Manager and Healthcare Purchasing News.