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Stem cells given in minimally invasive procedure improve heart function

TAMPA, Jan. 25 Patients with severe congestive heart failure who had exhausted all other treatment options showed markedly improved heart function following a procedure in which their own stem cells were deployed directly into the heart by way of four tiny incisions in the chest, according to results of a trial presented today at the 41st Annual Meeting of the Society for Thoracic Surgery. The study, led by Amit N. Patel, M.D., M.S., of the University of Pittsburgh McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is the first to use a minimally invasive surgical technique.

While preliminary, the results of the prospective randomized trial indicate that a minimally invasive approach to cell therapy is feasible for the estimated 40 percent of heart failure patients whose disease is unrelated to coronary blockages and who therefore cannot benefit from bypass procedures. Moreover, the experience so far suggests the novel stem-cell approach may be a viable treatment for these and other heart failure patients, reported Dr. Patel, director of clinical cardiac cell therapies at the McGowan Institute.

All 15 of the patients who received stem cell injections had some degree of improvement, some with dramatic results, while the conditions essentially remained unchanged in the 15 randomized to receive injections of their own blood serum.

"It is remarkable the level of improvement we've seen in these patients, who came to us with no other medical or surgical options available to them. However, we don't yet fully understand how these cells work, whether they differentiate to become heart muscle cells or cells that promote vessel growth, or whether they serve as homing signals to other cells and substances that help with repair," explained Dr. Patel.

The study took place at centers in South America. The research team obtained the necessary institutional and government health agency approval and each patient provided informed consent.

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