Adult Stem Cells Can Save Failing Hearts: Researchers

Friday, 06 Sep 2013 09:43 AM

By Charlotte Libov

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Former Master Sgt. Barry Brown was teaching physical education to Miami high school students when he realized there was something terribly wrong. Super-fit and just 38, the newly retired Air Force fitness instructor suddenly couldn’t walk a quarter mile without experiencing a searing pain in his back.
 
"I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and I assumed I was in the best shape of my life, so it just didn't make sense," Brown tells Newsmax Health.
 
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He was stunned when tests showed he had advanced heart disease and needed a triple bypass. But that's not all. He was also suffering from congestive heart failure and was told that in the future he might need a heart transplant. "I was devastated. I was a father with two young children," Brown recalls.
 
He underwent the bypass operation, but during the surgery his heart also received injections of his own stem cells as part of a clinical trial at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
 
The program is one of many that are starting to reveal the vast healing potential of stem cells. Trials are under way that are studying whether stem cells can be used against a wide array of serious conditions, including heart failure, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and paralysis, says Joshua Hare, M.D., director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at UM.

Currently, six million people in the U.S. suffer from heart failure. The condition kills an estimated 53,000 Americans each year.
 
The study involving Brown is still being readied for scientific journal publication, so the results are not yet known. But in a similar trial presented at the American Heart Association's annual conference, Dr. Hare demonstrated dramatic patient improvements.
 
Stem cells injected into damaged hearts were able over time to reduce scar tissue by 33 percent. The study, which involved 30 men at UM and Johns Hopkins University, also found that the stem cells rejuvenated healthy heart tissue and remodeled the shape of the weakened heart to look more like a healthy heart. In many cases, such improvements can mean the difference between life or death.
 
Stem cells are immature "master cells" within the body that have the capability to transform themselves into different types of cells within the human body. The research that Dr. Hare is doing utilized adult stem cells taken from the patient's own body, as was done in the case of Brown, or from a third-party donor. No embryonic stem cells are used, sidestepping the ethical issues that have made this type of research controversial in the past. In Brown’s treatment, the stem cells were taken from his bone marrow, cleaned and injected into 10 places in his heart during his bypass.
 
This kind of cutting edge treatment is not yet available in the U.S. outside of trials.
 
Although the study involving Brown took place in Miami, there are stem cell trials for a variety of diseases throughout the country.
 
To find such research, go to clinicaltrials.gov. On this website, run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, you will be able to learn the location and other details of ongoing stem cell studies. For instance, a search of "stem cells" and "heart" elicited the names of several studies, including Brown's, which is now finished and being readied for journal publication.
 
This past August, Brown’s study was "unblended," meaning that he was told whether he received a placebo or actual stem cells. It came as no surprise to the ex-soldier that he had received the stem cells. For months, "I could feel my heart growing stronger," he says. He felt as fit as he ever had.
 
Special: Warning Signs of a 'Silent' Heart Attack

Brown went back to work as a fitness trainer running his own company, Athlete in Motion. If anybody needed any further confirmation that the injections had done wonders, Brown celebrated the third anniversary of his surgery by running a half-marathon.
 
The full version of this article appeared in Health Radar newsletter. To read more, click here.
 

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