During a heart attack, part of the heart muscle isn’t getting blood. Millions of people survive heart attacks only to succumb later to heart failure as the damaged heart gets progressively weaker.
Heart transplant may be an option, but donor hearts are hard to come by. A new technology being tested at the Mayo Clinic allows doctors to repair the damaged heart using stem cells.
Think of stem cells as juvenile cells. They haven’t yet decided what they want to be when they grow up. They could become muscle cells, or liver cells, or heart cells. The trick is getting them to choose the career we want. Which is what Dr. Andre Terzic is doing in his lab.
Andre Terzic, MD, PhD, Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine: We are essentially now teaching a stem cell that can go in different directions to specifically acquire this propensity to become heart-like cells.
Miroslav Dlacic is living proof. A former fighter pilot in Serbia, heart failure left him too exhausted even to walk. He volunteered to test the new technique, and told Serbian television he was feeling stronger after just a few months.
Dr. Terzic’s technique involves taking stem cells from the patient’s own hip bone, then treating them with specific proteins he identified which cause the stem cells to become heart cells. All the patients in the trial who had these cells injected into their damaged hearts showed improvement.
Teams are now working on getting this technique to work with other tissue, including liver, lungs, nerves and bone.