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Adult Stem Cell Research Trials Could Reduce Need for Heart Transplants

London, England ( -- Heart disease patients in England who may otherwise need a transplant could soon participate in a trial involving the use of adult stem cells that may reduce or eliminate the need for the transplant. The trials, if successful, could show another capability of the ethical version of stem cells.

Adult stem cells have been used for years to repair heart damage in patients, but scientists at London's King's College Hospital are hoping that a pioneering treatment could take them to the next level.

The treatment involves taking a patient's own stem cells and growing them in a lab setting. The bone marrow cells are turned into human heart stem cells and then injected into the heart to repair damage.

The researchers have already tested the process on animals with considerable success and Dr. Jonathan Hill, a hospital consultant who hopes to work with scientists at King's College London University, tells the London Telegraph that human trials could begin within a year.
"I have seen the results of the trials and they are very encouraging," he said. "We are negotiating to carry out human trials in the UK."

Professor Sian Harding, of Imperial College London, told the Telegraph that the trials could result in a "big leap forward" in helping patients who suffer from heart failure.

The adult stem cells overcome one of the primary problems associated with embryonic stem cells -- that they are rejected by a patient's immune system.

"Placing heart stem cells into the heart to repair has a very good chance of working because the stem cells are the patient's own there are no problems with rejection," she said.

Harding is working on trying to turn embryonic stem cells into heart cells using the same process and she admitted to the newspaper that that work is "years away" from achieving the same success as adult stem cells.

In March 2005, researchers at Johns Hopkins University started what was then believed to be the first clinical trial to use adult mesenchymal stem cells to repair muscle damaged by heart attack.

The Hopkins team presented their research on animals at a November 2004 American Heart Association conference.

The team found that 75 percent of dead scar tissue disappeared after therapy and they hoped to replicate the success with humans.

Last year, the University of Utah was enrolling patients in a new clinical trial that uses their own bone marrow adult stem cells to treat two types of heart failure. The trial is the first of its kind for a condition, cardiomyopathy, which is not susceptible to other forms of treatment besides a heart transplant.

Meanwhile, German researchers have enjoyed success (not yet used in human trials) in building heart valves using the "scaffolding concept" and adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood.

The scientist in charge of the research noted that the valves might be used to replace defective ones in children, perhaps even growing along with them and allowing them to avoid the multiple surgeries required by traditional valve replacement.

An estimated 7 million Americans alive today have suffered at least one heart attack and so are at greater risk for chronic heart failure, sudden cardiac death or another, potentially fatal, heart attack.

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