Right now, someone in Seattle is awaiting a heart transplant, and they may help to dramatically change the way heart failure is treated.
By serving as an incubator for his or her own stem cells, this person is taking part in an experiment designed to figure out some of the mysteries of re-growing heart cells: heart muscle regeneration. It’s a process that may lead to a new era in congestive heart failure therapy.
“What started out as a wild idea a long time ago — that you could use stem cells to repair the heart — has turned into a much bigger thing,” says Charles E. (Chuck) Murry, M.D., Ph.D., Res. ’92, UW professor of pathology, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Biology, co-director of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM), and the Arra and Eva Woods Endowed Professor.
This is where heart failure/transplant cardiologist April Stempien-Otero, M.D., Fel. ’97, FACC (and the patients) enters the picture.
Stempien-Otero directs injection of stem cells — harvested from each patient’s own bone marrow — into the hearts Feature > of patients who are critically ill with coronary artery disease. These volunteers are awaiting heart transplants, and, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, are using left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) to survive.
Because the implanted LVADs pump blood to the body, stem cells can be injected into the heart without risk to the patient’s health. After the patient receives a new heart, the damaged organ is examined to determine if the injected cells helped to regenerate heart muscle tissue.