March 14, 2006

Bone Marrow Injections Shown to Help Heart Disease

By Deena Beasley

ATLANTA -- Injecting bone marrow cells into heart muscle has for the first time been shown to increase the ability of patients with severe heart disease to exercise and more effectively pump blood, researchers said on Tuesday.

A patient's bone marrow contains adult stem cells that are believed to contribute to the regeneration of cardiac tissue and the development of new blood vessels.

Results from a trial of the treatment in 28 patients were presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology here.

Previous trials have showed mixed results for the therapy, but researchers from Hong Kong and Australia said their work is the first randomized, controlled trial to evaluate direct injection of bone marrow cells into blood- and oxygen-starved heart muscle using a catheter-based technique rather than open-chest surgery.

"Grafting healthy cells into the diseased heart holds enormous potential to induce new blood vessels and strengthen weak hearts in patients with coronary heart disease," Dr. Hung-Fat Tse, deputy director of University of Hong Kong's heart, brain, hormone and healthy aging center, said in a statement.

Patients in the trial had advanced coronary artery disease, with no other treatment options.

The researchers removed bone marrow cells from the patients, then randomly assigned them to receive low-dose or high-dose injections of the cells or plasma directly into oxygen-deprived areas of the heart.

After six months, patients treated with bone marrow cells were able to exercise, on average, more than a minute longer on a treadmill and showed a 4 percent increase in the amount of blood pumped by the heart's left ventricle, both significant changes.

The control group showed no improvement.

The results are "probably going to open the door to this therapy in a much larger fashion," said Dr. William O'Neill, chief of cardiology at William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, who had no role in the study.

The researchers said they also observed improvements in the ability to do daily activities and in decreasing the severity and frequency of chest pain in both groups.

Data on blood flow within the heart muscle and long-term safety, including the presence of calcification, tumors, and rhythm abnormalities, are still being analyzed.