Patients with hard-to-treat chest pain reported feeling better, and could exercise longer, after doctors injected stem cells taken from their bone marrow into their heart, according to a new study in Circulation Research.
The early-stage research suggests that the cells were able to help heal tiny, damaged blood vessels that are often untouched by procedures like stents and angioplasty, says lead researcher Douglas Losordo of Northwestern University.
Losordo has been searching for more than a decade for ways to repair the heart using a patient’s own stem cells. He is by no means the only scientist on this quest, but Losordo is the only one using a particular stem cell, called CD34+, which is believed to promote blood vessel growth.
Richard Lee, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and head of the cardiovascular program at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, says Losordo’s research is novel because of his use of these cells, and because he is aiming his treatments at a group of people who have not been well helped by medicine so far.
The American Heart Association estimates that 850,000 Americans have lingering bouts of chest pain, a condition called refractory angina, which is not relieved by medication, angioplasty, or stenting. At the beginning of Losordo’s study, the 167 participants had 20 or more episodes of pain a week so severe that they had to stop what they were doing. Six months into the research, patients who received a low dose of the stem cells reported roughly seven attacks a week on average, while those who received a placebo treatment had 11.
The low-dose patients also were able to tolerate exercise for more than two minutes longer at the end of the study compared to the beginning, while those in the placebo arm could last just over a minute longer.