Adult stem cells may help repair hearts, study finds

Adult stem cells might help repair hearts damaged by heart attack — in part by becoming heart cells themselves.

That was the finding of a new study, released Monday, that points to a promising new treatment for heart-attack patients that could reduce mortality and lessen the need for heart transplants. Adult stem cells also could help heal livers, kidneys, pancreases and other organs.

If confirmed by further trials, the new therapy could be in general use within five years, estimates Dr. Joshua Hare, a University of Miami cardiologist and lead author of the 10-university study.

"This clearly did help heal the human heart," Hare said.

Though the study only involved 53 patients, it's the first time that adult stem cells have been shown to help repair heart damage. Previous heart-attack treatments, such as angioplasty, have restored blood flow, but did not heal heart tissue.

"This is a pretty big deal. Echocardiograms showed improved heart function, particularly in those patients with large amounts of cardiac damage," said Hare, who also is director of the UM Medical School's Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute. "They also had improvements in lung function."

The study will appear in the Dec. 8 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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