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September 29, 2005

Stem cells seem to rejuvenate failing hearts. The trouble is, doctors still don't understand how.

Topics: Medicine
[Landon Nordeman / Getty Images for Newsweek]

Heart attacks and congestive heart failure remain among the Nation's most prominent health challenges despite many breakthroughs in cardiovascular medicine. In fact, despite successful approaches to prevent or limit cardiovascular disease, the restoration of function to the damaged heart remains a formidable challenge. Recent research is providing early evidence that adult and embryonic stem cells may be able to replace damaged heart muscle cells and establish new blood vessels to supply them.

If starved for oxygen, heart cells die, their places usurped not by fresh replacements but by scarring. Burdened with useless tissue, with no hope of new reinforcements, the remaining muscle cells in the heart take on more responsibility, working harder to pump the blood. The heart grows larger with the strain but rarely regains its original strength. Despite doctors' efforts to save them with drugs, catheters, stents and surgery, 5 million Americans currently suffer from heart failure. Half will die within five years of diagnosis.

So cardiologists have started pursuing an unorthodox strategy?shoring up the dying hearts with stem cells, the body's self-renewing jacks-of-all-trades, immature cells that can be coaxed into transforming into many different types. Cardiologists who have performed the procedure in Europe, South America and Japan using adult human stem cells have reported Lazarus-like improvements in their patients, some of whom have even returned from near-permanent hospitalization to their previous, normal lives...

In the future, expect rapid progress in adult stem cells and slower, less intense work with embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cell technology is already looking rather last-century, along with therapeutic cloning. History will show that by 2020 we were already able to produce a wide range of tissues using adult stem cells, with spectacular progress in tissue building and repair. In some cases these stem cells will be actually incorporated into the new repairs as differentiated cells, in other cases, they will be temporary assistants in local repair processes.

Related: Stem Cell Report

Stem Cell Research lands TheraVitae CEO in Top 100 List

Posted by Richard at September 29, 2005 7:16 AM

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