(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) -- For the first time, stem cells from patients' own hearts have been shown to battle heart failure.
In a small study of 16 patients, cardiac stem cells improved heart function and reduced the amount of tissue damage in patients with heart failure -- a disabling and lethal condition caused by the death of heart muscle tissue.
"If this is confirmed in further studies, it could offer an entirely new option and a potential cure for patients who are now dying from heart failure," said Dr. Roberto Bolli, director of cardiology at University of Louisville and lead author of the study published Monday in The Lancet.
Cardiac stem cells have the potential to divide and develop into cardiomyocytes -- the muscle cells that make the heart contract and pump blood.
Among 14 patients who responded to the stem cell treatment, the heart's blood-pumping efficiency increased from 30.3 percent before the treatment to 38.5 percent after. And in seven patients who underwent magnetic resonance imaging, the amount of dead heart muscle tissue decreased by 24 percent over four months and 30 percent over a year.
Seven control patients who did not receive the stem cell treatment showed no improvement.
"What is really exciting about the use of cardiac stem cells is we think we're attacking the fundamental problem: replacing dead tissue with new cardiac muscle," said Bolli. "Again, if these results are confirmed, this would be a true revolution in medicine; one of the biggest advances in cardiology in my lifetime."
Stem cell-treated patients also reported feeling better and more capable of doing daily activities.
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