I’m excited to report news involving three of my favorite topics: nanotechnology, stem cells, and fixing hearts. Past efforts using stem cells to treat heart attacks and heart failure haven’t been very successful. And the worst part is, they don’t know why. Apparently they inject the stem cells into a patient but then don’t know where they end up. Do they stay in the targeted part of the heart or wander off somewhere else? If the treatment doesn’t work, up til now there’s been no way to determine why not. Now if only they could tell where the stem cells go and what they do…
Enter this new visualizing technique. Doctors at Stanford University School of Medicine have designed a way to use nanotechnology to track stem cells after they’ve been introduced into a patient’s body. The thought is that once they know where the stem cells have gone, they’ll be able to see more clearly what’s happening with them. The tracking technique, which also allows doctors to guide the stem cells more precisely to their intended location, involves marking the stem cells with nanoparticles and a gadolinium-laced contrast agent and following them with standard ultrasounds (Yay, non-invasive!) as they enter the body and move around. The hope is the docs’ll be able to see exactly where the stem cells take up residence and watch what they do. Do they stay in the targeted area or do they diffuse away from the heart? Do they develop into the desired cells or into something else entirely?
I know that gadolinium as a contrast agent ingredient is known to cause people who have kidney problems to develop a terrible and disfiguring disease known as Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis. It’s certainly good to hear that the substance can also be used in this new way to potentially help people with serious heart issues.
Unfortunately, this exciting discovery has at least three more years before it can be used in humans. But as with all life-limiting conditions, those of us who live with them are always looking for reasons to hope.