Heart failure is a serious medical condition in which the heart is unable to effectively pump blood throughout the body for its normal function. It has a wide range of structural, electrical or functional causes. Common causes include cardiomyopathy, hypertension, heart valve problems and coronary artery disease.
Treatment for various types of heart failure depends on its underlying cause and severity, and may include a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, implantable devices and surgical procedures.
Despite major advances in medicine over the past decades, CHF therapy options are underwhelming in the results they produce. CHF is still related to unacceptably high death rates. Current CHF treatment may improve symptoms and signs, to reduce heart failure-related hospital admissions, and above all to improve patients’ survival, but there is no definitive cure.
Stem cell therapy for CHF
Stem cells are body’s own pluripotent cells that are able to differentiate into specific cells, such as cardiomyocytes. In the setting of heart failure, stem cells can replace damaged cardiac muscle tissue and promote healing through growth factors. Mesenchymal stem cells can be harvested from human umbilical cord tissue and injected into the failing heart.
All stem cells are screened for infectious diseases and cleared for use in patients. Patient’s own stem cells, derived from the bone marrow, can be used as well but they have been to have a modest benefit.
Overall, chances of success can be improved by giving more highly selected stem cells from a donor around the time of a heart attack, or giving a patient’s own cardiac stem cells late after a heart attack.
Stem cell therapy for CHF has yet to be proven fully safe and their benefits fully established. Randomized clinical trials evaluating these different approaches are underway and promising results are beginning to emerge.
Results from the most recent trial show that participants receiving stem cell therapy had significantly improved heart function than those who did not. It was also associated with significant improvement in symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath. Furthermore, no adverse events were found to be associated with stem cell therapy. These studies are showing promising results regarding the improvement of the heart’s ejection fraction, patients’ functional capacity, and quality of life. These results were seen with non-ischemic HF. It also appears that there is no “fit-all” stem cell therapeutic approach, and future therapeutic strategies involving stem cells will be more personalized to the patient’s condition, including its underlying causes and clinical stage.
These early results have been encouraging but evidence from more large-scale trials will need to be seen before stem cell therapy can be considered as a fully validated treatment for symptomatic patients with CHF.