Stem cell therapy is already used to help heal the heart after an attack, but doctors have had problems getting the cells to stay put.
Dr. W. Robert Taylor, professor of medicine at Emory and the director of Emory’s cardiology division, recently published a paper about a new procedure that encapsulates stem cells in a gummy substance called alginate. While the cells are confined in the substance, they are forced to stay in place and offer greater healing to the heart muscle.
Taylor said current methods attempt to help the heart by reintroducing blood flow using stents, surgery or clot-busting drugs. “While there are great benefits from these approaches, and great strides have been made in decreasing mortality and morbidity from heart attacks, these approaches do not regenerate new tissue or grow new blood vessels. They essentially mitigate the damage.”
Without something to hold them in place, the heart pushes out implanted cells like “fingers squeezing slippery watermelon seeds.”
“It just makes sense that if many of the cells that you administer either die or are expelled from the beating heart, then the efficacy is limited,” Taylor said.
His new method makes the process more productive by keeping the cells together. “We saw about a 50 percent reduction in the damage to the heart after a heart attack,” Taylor said.
So far, Taylor has only tested the encapsulation method on mice. “One of the exciting aspects of this work is the ability to translate this to humans,” Taylor said.
"Alginate is currently used in many other applications," he added. "We anticipate that the hurdles to human studies are relatively modest. We are hoping to get funding to move this forward in humans in the near future."