Can stem cells heal broken hearts?


Fergus Walsh explains how the patient's own cells are put back into his heart

Related Stories

The biggest ever stem cell trial involving heart attack patients has got under way in London. The study, which will involve 3,000 patients in 11 European countries, should show whether the treatment can cut death rates and repair damaged tissue after a heart attack.

All the patients will have standard treatment to widen their narrowed arteries, which involves inserting a small tube called a stent. In addition, half the patients will have stem cells taken from their bone marrow and injected into their heart.

This will happen within days of them suffering a heart attack.

Start Quote

Neal Grainger

It's fantastic to be part of this trial”

End Quote Neal Grainger

"It's fantastic to be part of this," said Neal Grainger, 54, from Essex, who was the first patient in the UK to be treated.

UK's biggest killer

He had an infusion of his bone marrow stem cells at the London Chest Hospital just days after his heart attack last month.

"It's strange having something taken out of you and then put back, but I hope it helps me and a lot of others."

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the UK.

During a heart attack, a fatty plaque causes a blood clot inside an artery, starving heart muscle of oxygen and leaving scar tissue.

Although more and more patients are surviving heart attacks, they can be left considerably weaker because heart muscle has been permanently damaged.

Fluid build-up on the lungs is another problem and patients are often on medication for life.

There have been dozens of smaller trials using stem cells to treat heart attack patients.

'Definitive trial'

An analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2012 suggested the treatment offered "modest improvement".

stem cells The patient's stem cells ready for use

But many trials involved just small numbers of patients.

"This is the definitive trial," said Prof Anthony Mathur, director of cardiology at Barts Health NHS Trust and chief investigator for the trial.

"After 15 years of research we will now have a clear answer. We hope to show that stem-cell injections can cut the number of people dying from heart attacks by 25%.

"If it works, it would open up a whole new branch of medicine, and give heart attack patients an entirely new treatment."

It is unclear exactly how a patient's own bone marrow stem cells might help repair their heart.

Donor adult stem cells have been used successfully for decades in bone marrow transplants, but in that situation it is a like-for-like replacement.

Expecting these cells to survive in the heart and transform into specialised heart cells is a huge challenge.

'Could save NHS money'

One theory is that they release chemical signals that enhance the activity of the heart's own stem cells.

University College Hospital in central London and King's College Hospital in south London are the two other centres in Britain taking part.

The trial includes hospitals in other major European cities such as Paris, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Rome and Copenhagen.

John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London and adjunct professor of medicine at Yale, said: "This trial does not have the backing of the pharmaceutical industry as there is no money in it for them. You can't patent a patient's own cells.

"So not only could this treatment save lives it could also save the NHS money."

The study, known as the BAMI (bone acute myocardial infarction), has received nearly £5m from the European Commission.

The results will be announced in five years.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

Defeating cancer, the 'evil genius'

Can we win the war against cancer? Over the past 18 months, Panorama has followed a group of patients on drug trials. Some who'd been given months to live, are keeping cancer at bay for years.

Read full article

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    It is, of course, wonderful news. However, keep in mind our very slow pace when it comes to challenging doctrine laid down by industries who see they have a lot to lose . . . if evolutionary medicine takes hold.

    (Frankly, I see western medicine being held back by about thirty - fifty years at a minimum by these greedy characters.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    149. Have to agree, many of the patients at U Heart Center were men in the 45 to 70 age bracket who led active productive lives and were cut down in their prime/top productive years by heart attacks or arterial blockage. Many were stented the day of admission and sent home the next day after stabilization - a few of us kept longer as required bypasses. A totally positive H experience for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    The medical profession seems hell-bent upon perpetuating life, instead of allowing people to die naturally. All they're doing is storing up problems for the NHS, which is already struggling to cope with treatment. Keeping people alive exacerbates the problem.

    I swear you are working for Conservative Central Office. This could come right out of their manifesto.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I wished this treatment was available before my husband died. he died in September of last year. He had a heart attack last April and never really recovered from it. He was only 57.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Definitely there are a lot of diff heads on this Page, if you're going to have an heart attack then you will have one, lifestyle or not, genetics or not if it's going to happen it will and there's nothing you can do to stop it and if you believe differently dream on,
    Myself i have had four heart attacks and have two stents, I would say that makes me an expert and know what I am talking about


Comments 5 of 151


Features & Analysis

  • Signposts showing the US and UK flagsAn ocean apart

    How British misunderstanding of the US is growing

  • Before and after shotsPerfect body

    Just how reliable are 'before and after' photos?

  • Mukesh SinghNo remorse

    Delhi bus rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

  • A cow wearing sunglasses overlaid with the phrase 'Can't touch this'Cow row

    Thousands rally against the ban on beef in India

BBC Future

(Getty Images)

What it’s really like to die

The seven experiences you face at the end


  • Former al-Qaeda double agent Aimen DeanHARDtalk Watch

    Islamic State is about revenge says former al-Qaeda member turned spy Aimen Dean

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.