HealthWACH: Fixing hearts with stem cells

Fixing hearts with stem cells

COLUMBIA (WACH) - There are a variety of types of heart attacks, but the most serious kind is known as a STEMI. The acronym stands for ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction; ST-segment elevation refers to the pattern that would show up on a patientâ??s electrocardiogram. A STEMI occurs when a coronary artery is totally blocked. When a patient has a STEMI heart attack, it requires immediate action in the form of revascularization, which means unclogging the artery and getting the heart pumping normally. There are two ways of achieving revascularization; one is by using clot-busting drugs, and the other is with angioplasty. Itâ??s estimated nearly 250,000 people have STEMI heart attacks a year.

Like other kinds of heart attacks, STEMI heart attacks donâ??t have one singular cause, but rather a variety of involved factors. Some of them include:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Genetic factors

  • Unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle

  • Age, especially those between age 40 and 55

Doctors at Rush University Medical Center are now researching how stem cells can help the heart regain its strength. Using a small catheter, doctors inject bone marrow stem cells into the heart. It was believed only embryonic stem cells had the ability to turn into any cells, but adult bone marrow stem cells have shown the ability to do just that. The stem cells essentially strengthen the parts of the heart damaged by the heart attack. Results from the Phase 1 trial showed patients who received the stem cells had better heart function and fewer arrhythmias at six months than untreated patients. The Phase 2 trial recently completed enrollment and is underway.