Researchers at the University of Utah are excited by a discovery that in patients with weak hearts, stem cells from the patient’s own body can be used to fix the damage. A study has revealed that treatment with stem cells brought the rate of repeat hospitalizations and death down by 37 percent in patients with heart failure.
A case in point is Ralph Okerlund, a Senator from Utah. He continued his work at the Capitol even after a couple of heart attacks. However, congestive heart failure (a condition where the heart is not strong enough to pump blood) left him feeling unwell and weak. “I’d have to stop and rest a few times going from my front door to the mailbox on the other side of the street,” he says. That was until he received stem cell treatment.
At the University of Utah’s Department of Clinical Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Amit Patel, MD, MS, treated Okerlund with cell therapy called IX Cell DCM. Simply put, this involved taking the Senator’s cells and putting them in an environment that was healthy so they could start healing his heart. For less than two weeks, a small amount of bone marrow was supercharged with a bioreactor. This process essentially allowed young progenitor cells to grow and older, weaker cells to die.
The next step was to map out areas of the Senator’s heart that had damage to the myometrium (heart muscle). About 100-200 million of the supercharged healthy cells were then injected into these damaged areas, triggering an immune response that would help in healing. Senator Okerlund was part of a study that included 114 patients, half of whom received the stem cell treatment. The study was blind, and it was only a few months later that the Senator learned he was on the treatment arm of the study.
Okerlund is delighted with the results. He knows he won’t be running marathons or doing hard physical labor anytime soon, but he feels well enough to do his activities of daily living without feeling exhausted. “I hope the therapy helps other people as much as it helped me,” he says.
Because the patients who received the therapy showed good results, the other half of patients who only received a placebo are now eligible to receive the same treatment. Dr. Patel explains that before it becomes available to the general public, a much larger study will need to be conducted to ensure that the therapy is safe and prove that it is effective.