Stem cells: New source for heart repairs and replacement parts

Stem cells have been somewhat out of the daily news for a while. But researchers are quietly moving forward finding new miracles these incredible cells can perform. Out of my own curiosity–in 2008 I had bioprosthetic valve replacement surgery–I decided to see where they were on fixing hearts with stem cells.

Found this CBS news story from last June about a guy who’s taking part in a clinical trial to see how well stem cells can repair heart damage, and thus alleviate or prevent congestive heart failure (which tends to be a death sentence within 5 years of diagnosis). Research is promising. They were at first trying to use bone marrow stem cells but had mixed results. Now the clinical trial is focusing on using a snippet of the patient’s own heart-originated stem cells to grow new heart cells to be inserted back into the damaged area of the heart.

Talk about miraculous. The extracted heart stem cells are “coaxed to grow spontaneously from the specimens, eventually forming into clusters called ‘cardio-spheres’ that can even start beating in the dish. [emphasis added]” In just a few weeks, they have millions of stem cells.

That trial is about repairing heart damage that results from cardiovascular disease. Searching further to see what’s happening with stem cells and heart parts such as valves, I found a report of successfully using bone marrow stem cells to grow enough new valve cells to make it functional again. According to the report, the woman had the operation done in Germany in 2005, recovered completely, and in 2009 is still doing well.

This is fantastic news. Maybe by the time my prosthetic valve wears out they’ll be using stem cells to grow new ones on a regular basis. It’ll be like being able to go to your very own parts department.

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