Doctors using stem cells to repair heart problems

By: Sandra Hughes, CBS Email
By: Sandra Hughes, CBS Email

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — There's new hope for treating heart failure. For the first time, doctors are starting to use a patient's own cardiac stem cells to help repair their hearts.

It's hard to believe Ken Milles suffered a serious heart attack just two years ago.

"I feel great. I feel fantastic. I feel 100%," he said.

He was just 39 when a heart attack left him with heart failure. His heart couldn't pump enough blood and oxygen to support his other organs. Milles volunteered for an experimental trial at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Doctors injected stem cells from his own heart into the area the attack damaged most.

"These cells are factories of growth factors and when you inject them they will in fact positively impact the environment and cause the cells to grow," said Dr. Raj Makkar, who works at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

Cedars isn't alone in making these conclusions. The University of Louisville published similar research in the new issue of The Lancet. While the two instittutions argue over who made the discovery first the results are the same. Stem cells were able to heal heart tissue.

Nearly six million americans suffer heart failure after having a heart attack. About 20 percent die within one year from diagnosis.

Milles underwent the stem cell procedure in 2009. He says he started feeling better almost immediately.

"It feels like I broke my arm. It was in a cast and it healed and now it's forgotten. That's exactly what it feels like," he said.

The results are encouraging, but doctors admit the studies are small and more research is needed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, heart failure cost the United States $39.2 billion. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.

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