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Animal study finds embryonic stem cells can repair heart muscle

Transplantation of embryonic stem cells can help repair injured heart muscle and improve cardiac function following heart attacks and the development of congestive heart failure (CHF), according to the results of an animal study conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The findings raise the possibility of a future treatment option for CHF, which diminishes the heart's pumping ability, leaving patients fatigued, often to the point of debilitation. Nearly 5 million people in the U.S. suffer from CHF. "Congestive heart failure is the last major area of cardiac medicine that remains without a readily available effective treatment," explains BIDMC cardiologist James Morgan, M.D., Ph.D., Herman Dana Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the study, which appears in the January issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology. "The statistics on this condition are troubling even with optimal medical treatment, a persons chances of surviving for five years with heart failure is only around 50 percent."

Heart failure develops when the heart stops pumping effectively due to the destruction of muscle cells, known as cardiomyocytes. Damage inflicted during a heart attack or myocardial infarction causes massive loss of cardiomyocytes, resulting in ventricular dysfunction. Although heart transplantation has proven very successful in the treatment of CHF, notes Morgan, only a small fraction of organs about 2,000 are actually available for transplant.

Heart disease has been a focus of stem cell research for a number of years, with promising results shown in mice which were treated with adult stem cells. However, previous research utilized fully differentiated muscle cells and had not tested embryonic stem cells in heart muscle that had already been damaged. Morgan, together with the study's lead author Yong Fu Xiao, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Cardiology at BIDMC and colleagues, designed this study to determ
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Contact: Jerry Berger
jberger@caregroup.harvard.edu
617-632-8062
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
27-Dec-2001


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