What do singer Randy Travis and Dick Cheney have in common? They both have a device that keeps the heart pumping until a transplant becomes available. But now researchers think that adding stem cells at the same time could eventually make heart transplants obsolete.
Allan Isaacs, 71, had congestive heart failure, which made it difficult to perform basic tasks such as walking, breathing and eating. But after getting a left ventricular assist device put in his chest, he got moving again.
The LVAD helps pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, but Isaccs' recovery may also have to do with the fact that his treatment included injections of his own bone marrow stem cells. Isaacs is taking part in a cutting-edge study at the University of Minnesota.
"We isolate the stem cells and when they go in for surgery we inject those cells on the heart wall," said Dr. Ganesh Raveendran, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
One-third of the patients receive a placebo, and the rest get 10 injections of stem cells into their hearts. Muscle tissue is then analyzed to see whether the cells have transformed into cardiac muscle or made other meaningful changes.
In many cases, an LVAD is a bridge to a transplant, but the hope is that the stem cell therapy could eliminate the need for a transplant.
The research team at the University of Minnesota Medical Center hopes to wrap up the study by he end of the year before launching a much bigger national study.