Stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell in the body. Its ability of self-renewing or multiplying while maintaining the potential to develop into other types of cells makes them possible to become cells of the blood, heart, bones, skin, muscles, brain etc.
There are a number of adult stem cell therapies available, particularly bone marrow transplants that are used for treating leukemia. It is expected that stem cell therapies could eventually be used to treat various types of disease including cancer, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart failure, heart disease and other chronic ailments.
In contrast with previous findings, a study led by researchers from University of Miami found that stem cells donated by strangers could help restore heart tissues damaged by heart attack. The news was disclosed on November 6, 2012 during the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2012. The findings were then published on December 12, 2012 in the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’.
Only 30 patients in Miami and Baltimore were involved in the study. All of them had suffered heart attack years earlier, some as long as 30 years ago, and developed heart failure because the scar tissue from the heart attack had weakened their hearts making them unable to pump blood effectively.
Researchers advertised for people to supply marrow. A specific type of stem cells were removed from bone marrow using a needle into the hip and then amplified for about a month in a laboratory at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University. According to researchers, recipients would not reject these stem cells as they lack a key feature on their surface that makes the immune system see them as foreign tissue and attack them.
The cells were then returned to Miami and delivered through a tube pushed through a groin artery into the heart near the scarred area. Cells from own marrow were given to 15 patients and cells from strangers were given to the other 15.
After about a year, scar tissue had been reduced by about one-third. Improvements in how far patients could walk and in quality of life were noted in both groups. There was no significant difference on how well their hearts were able to pump blood.
This definitely is a breakthrough because cells supplied by others can now be used without blood or tissue matching. Cells could be made ready in the blood bank so needed patients could just come in for a therapy without much delay. Moreover, it is also cheaper to make the donor cells as a single marrow donor could supply enough cells to treat as much as 10 people.