Can stem cells repair damage after heart attack?

Can stem cells repair damage after heart attack?

PORTLAND, Ore. – It was only a couple months ago when Ted Gross, 55, had a massive heart attack. Gross described the experience as “like having somebody-hang-on-to-you real-hard type of pain, and not letting go."

When a heart attack takes place, major damage is done to the heart muscle. But what if doctors could repair heart muscles, making those muscles essentially as "good as new"?

Doctors may be closer than ever to providing such care to patients.

Oregon Health and Science University hospital is one of only 40 medical centers world-wide working to see if stem cells from adults can repair the damage done to a heart after a heart attack.
Gross was lucky. After surviving a double by-pass surgery, he is now in rehab to regain his strength.

“I fatigue," Gross said of his recovery period. "What I do takes longer."

While he did not undergo any stem cell procedures, Gross said he is encouraged to learn doctors are closer than ever to restoring the damaged heart muscle after a heart attack.

Dr. Saurubh Gupta is Ted's cardiologist and leader of the stem-cell trial at OHSU. Gupta says that, as well as Gross is doing, his heart is still not a 100 percent healed.

"”Even though the artery was opened, the heart muscle has not recovered to what we had hoped it would," Gupta said. However, the new treatment research may change that.

Gross’ case is a perfect example of who the research is targeting: “This therapy, conceivably, could have helped that process along,”  Gupta added.

It uses an IV to deliver adult stem cells directly to the heart. Within a week of a heart attack, typically there's swelling around the damaged area. The hope is that the damaged area serves as a homing device for the stem cells to respond to, and then repair.

"Stem cells are cells that haven't decided what they want to be when they grow up,“ Gupta explained. “Our hope is to be able to cajole them into being what we want them to be."

Gupta said, fundamentally, the treatment should work. However, even he said he is only "cautiously optimistic" about it.

As for Ted Gross, whose young family is certainly grateful he's recovering, he's open to progress – whether it's to help a patient now or in the future.

“If there's a possibility of being involved later," Gross said, "…at this time I'd be open" to participating. However, stem cells have to be injected within a week of the heart attack, so it is too late for Gross to participate in this study.

Even if all goes well, Gupta thinks researchers are still at least two years away from the procedure being available to patients.

Gupta said its important to remember that every second counts during a heart attack and to be aware of the early symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Indigestion and
  • Shortness of breath

More information on this study can be found here.