Health Beat: Stem cells heal hearts

Health Beat: Stem cells heal hearts

MINNEAPOLIS - About 5.8 million Americans have heart failure, a condition that occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Now, researchers say a special type of stem cell may be the key to repairing these hearts.

Golf has always been a big part of Ron Signorelli's life.

"I started when I was ten," Signorelli said.

Signorelli's congestive heart failure, however, was keeping him away from his favorite pastime.

"I was in the hospital over 20 times," he said.

Signorelli's heart pumped only 15 percent of blood. He needed help fast.

"There's a large number of patients out there that are really in this situation where they're gone past what normal medical therapy can do, but yet they're not sick enough or don't qualify for a heart transplant," said Dr. Timothy D. Henry, director of research at Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.

Now, a new approach can help patients like Signorelli. First, doctors extract bone marrow stem cells from the patient. Then, they grow the cells to enhance their healing ability. Those cells are then injected directly into the patient's heart.

"Our hopes are we improve the quality of their life, as well as the length of their life," Henry said.

In the first clinical trial, the treatment was safe, repaired damaged heart muscles, and even appeared to reverse some heart failure symptoms. Signorelli had 12 injections and hasn't been to the hospital since.

"I certainly feel good. I'm a very active person," Signorelli said.

Now, nothing stops his stride.

"When the weather is nice, I'll play three, four times a week," Signorelli explained.

Researchers are planning enrollment for the second phase of this trial at about 30 sites across the U.S. Once the results are assessed, the treatment will likely be more widely available. This therapy would not replace a heart transplant, but may delay or prevent the need for transplantation in the future.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Timothy D. Henry about using stem cells to heal hearts

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