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Study finds that stem cell therapy could repair heart attack damage

Canadian researchers at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute are leading groundbreaking new study using genetically enhanced stem cells to repair damage caused by heart attacks. Recently it was published in the Ottawa Citizen that researchers have began treating the first patient using this “next generation” therapy for heart attack survivors.

Close to 70,000 Canadians suffer from heart attacks every year and heart disease and stroke is responsible for one in four deaths in Canada annually. Although new treatments continue to improve, heart disease remains to be the leading cause of death in both men and women, motivating researchers to find new and innovative treatments to lessen the toll related diseases have taken on the population.

To combat deaths related to heart disease, research and therapeutic treatments continue to surface. Just like in the treatment of many other diseases and conditions, doctors have now turned to stem cells, in an effort to allow the body to harness its own healing capabilities and enable treatment of the individual via regenerative therapies using their own body as the healing agent.

Study finds that stem cell therapy could repair heart attack damage

One such study, spearheaded by Dr. Duncan Stewart, the Lead Principal Investigator of the trial, CEO and Scientific Director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, aims to do just that.

“Stem cells have incredible potential to repair and regenerate damaged organs, but cells that come from heart attack patients don’t have the same healing abilities as those from young, healthy adults,” said Dr. Stewart.

Dr. Stewart’s revolutionary therapy rejuvenates the stem cells which are taken from a patient’s own blood soon after the heart attack (the study conducted included patients that would have suffered from heart attacks within the previous 30 days.) After cells have been extracted from the patient, they are then enhanced with extra copies of a gene, endothelial nitric oxide synthase, which is essential to blood function. The enhanced cells are then returned to the patient through an infusion, with the entire process taking approximately six days. Once the enhanced cells are returned to the patient, they begin to “stimulate heart repair, reduce scar tissue and restore the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently – in other words “to help the heart fix itself,” Dr. Stewart comments.

Harriet Garrow, age 68 of Cornwall, Ontario suffered a heart attack in July 2013 and was the first patient to receive one of three treatments in the randomized double-blind trial. Neither trial participants nor researchers will know if they have received the genetically enhanced stem cells, non-enhanced stem cells or the placebo. Although Garrow does not know which treatment she received she has told reporters “I feel good. Not quite back to normal, but better than last week.”

The trial is in beginning stages and expects to last two years. Heart specialists are eagerly awaiting results and many experts believe that these groundbreaking results will not only re-shape treatments for heart disease but other diseases as well. With its infinite possibilities and success stories from around the world relating to stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine, there is no doubt that continued exploration and stem cell research will ultimately lead to medical discoveries that can allow people to live longer and healthier lives.

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