Study: Stem cell treatment can help heart attack victims
7 Healthcast: Study: Stem cell treatment can help heart attack victims
Now doctors are finding some success at harnessing those abilities in order to restore heart function after a heart attack.
Virginia Dolan survived a massive heart attack in 2010.
The active grandmother faced a life sentence of reduced heart function, limiting her lifestyle.
She agreed to participate in a clinical trial at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
Doctors told Virginia they would take stem cells from her bone marrow, then inject them into her heart.
Adult stem cells live in every organ in the body and have the ability to create new, healthy cells.
Doctors think that when the heart is damaged, the body sends signals to attract stem cells to the heart to to help it heal.
"The problem is they're not strong enough to repair heart muscle back to its normal state," says Dr. Daniel I. Simon.
So doctors take them out of the body, give them some muscle in a lab and inject them directly into the damaged area.
While encouraging, most of the stem cell research is years away from actual clinical practice.
Another study from the University of Louisville suggests using cardiac stem cells can improve blood flow and decrease scar tissue following a heart attack.
Doctors still don't know which stem cells work best, or when to use them.
Dr. Simon led the study of bone marrow stem cells Virginia Dolan was in.
A year later her heart is operating at near normal capacity.
Still, neither Virginia nor her doctor know whether she received the stem cells or a placebo -- because the study was blinded.
During the course of the research doctors did not find significant improvement when the bone marrow stem cells were injected three weeks after the heart attack.
They think the cells could be more beneficial if they're given closer to when the heart attack occurs.
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