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New Patch May Mean a Reduction in Heart Transplants

Posted on March 31, 2018


Researchers from England’s University of Cambridge Stem Cell Institute are testing a stem cell patch that could help to repair the damage caused by heart disease.

If successful, their research could reduce the need for heart transplants for patients living with hearts damaged by heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

The project uses stem cells to grow living patches of heart muscle. These patches are only a half inch square, and although small, the scientists believe they could have a big impact.

“Although the body has the great power to heal itself when sick or injured, some of the body’s tissues and organs do not heal well or heal at all,” said New York physician Dr. Joel Singer.

“One such organ is the heart. Heart attacks and heart disease leave the heart muscle weakened. This leaves patients at risk of heart failure or the buildup of scar tissue, both of which can cause premature death,” Singer said.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States, with over 610,000 Americans dying of heart disease in the U.S. every year.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack every year.

Since the heart muscle is slow to heal or does not heal at all, the heart must work harder to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body. For many individuals who have had a heart attack, their only option for regaining good health is a heart transplant. Donor hearts are not always readily available and waitlists for organs are long, which means some individuals may wait a very long time for a transplant.

“While individuals are waiting for a heart, they are likely to be living on oxygen, on medications and experiencing a reduced quality of life because of their condition,” Singer said.

They are also at risk for another heart attack.

“A second heart attack can be fatal because the heart muscle has already been damaged,” Singer said.

The Cambridge researchers believe that the stem cell patches will integrate easily with the heart muscle because it is fully functional tissue with the ability to beat and contract and communicate with existing heart muscle cells.

Initial attempts to use stem cells to heal damaged heart muscle were ineffective; injecting stem cells into the heart muscle resulted in the cells being absorbed into to the blood stream instead of staying in the heart muscle as intended.

The stem cell patches, however, can be attached to the organ.

In addition to being living and functioning heart tissue, the benefit of using the stem cell patches is that they can be created on demand.

“Using these cells to treat damaged heart tissue means that patients would no longer need to wait for a transplant,” Singer said.

The stem cells used to create the heart muscle patch are taken from the patient’s own cells, adding another layer of benefit to the treatment.

“Using autologous cells – or cells taken from the patient – eliminates the chance of rejection and the need for immunosuppressants medications,” Singer said.

Rejection is a risk for all individuals who receive transplants of cells, tissues or organs from other sources.

“This is because the body sees the new organ as a foreign invader. This triggers the immune system’s attack response,” Singer said.

Rejection can be mitigated using immunosuppressant drugs, which block the body from trying to kill off the new organ, but transplant patients must take the drugs for the rest of their lives.

“Using the body’s own natural cells to heal itself means not only better health, but an improved quality of life,” Singer said.


Futurism. A Stem Cell Patch Could Heal Hearts Damaged By Cardiac Arrest. 9 March 2018.

CDC. Heart Disease Facts. 28 November 2017.


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