Stem cells from abdominal fat may be used to improve heart function after a heart attack, researchers say. In the first study of its kind, Dutch researchers injected fat derived stem cells into the hearts of 10 patients who had suffered a heart attack. Four other patients were given a placebo treatment. The stem cells reduced the amount of damaged heart tissue, increased blood flow in the heart and improved the heart’s pumping ability compared with patients who were given a placebo.
The doctors used liposuction to extract 200-250 cubic centimetres of fat from the abdomen of each patient, from which they isolated 20 million stem cells. These were then infused into the patients within 24 hours of the heart attack occurring. After six months, patients treated with the stem cells had around a 15 per cent reduction in heart muscle damage. The degree of heart muscle damage in patients given the placebo treatment remained the same, and the stem cells did not interfere with blood flow to the heart or heart rhythm.
“The study suggests that these cells can be safely obtained and infused inside the hearts of patients following an acute heart attack,” said study leader Dr Eric Duckers at the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam. Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This pilot study shows for the first time that stem cells from a patient’s fat tissue may be similarly beneficial, indicating a potential new and more convenient source of stem cells. “However, since we still know very little about the way these cells could help to repair the damaged heart, there needs to be more research to understand what the stem cells actually do. That will help us to understand more about how they could be used for real patient benefit.”