Stem cell therapy could become one of the leading medical breakthroughs to get researchers closer to understanding all types of diseases and their developments, as well as how to treat them. Stem cells can also develop into other types of cells, as well as constantly renew themselves by dividing, which is a particularly attractive factor for scientists when it comes to stem. Stem cells play a major role in regeneration, so this can be extremely crucial in terms of treating disease. Stem cell therapy is an innovative medical practice using stem cells to treat a variety of diseases and ailments, including heart disease.
An Overview on Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy has the main goal of replacing cells damaged or destroyed by disease with new and healthy functioning cells. Stem cell therapy is a relatively new breakthrough, but some of the diseases stem cell therapy would be most beneficial for include cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and heart disease, among others. Because stem cells can be reprogrammed and replace different types of cells, stem cell therapy has a wide scope in the disease it can treat. For example, burn victims can benefit from stem cell therapy, because new skin cells can be grafted. Bone marrow stem cells can be used for patients with leukemia. The list is expansive.
Heart Attacks and Heart Disease
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Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide in both men and women. The effects of heart attack and congestive heart failure has stumped doctors and researchers alike. A heart attack occurs when the blood vessels that feed the heart are blocked, usually by a blood clot that forms on top of a plaque (a build-up composed of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other elements). Without oxygen and nutrients from the blood vessels, heart cells die, and there is also added damage to large amounts of heart tissue. Heart attacks cause damage to the heart muscle, and because the heart has very limited ability to regenerate, the damaged muscle is replaced with scar tissue. This then leads to reduced cardiac function, and often progresses to the heart being unable to meet the body’s demand for blood flow, otherwise known as heart failure. Once heart cells are damaged, they cannot be saved or regenerated, so new treatments are needed to restore the cells. Current treatments for heart failure only focus on managing the symptoms instead of treating the disease.
Stem Cell Therapy Approach for Heart Disease
Researchers can use stem cells in two ways to study and treat heart disease. First, stem cells derived from a patient can be turned into a “heart muscle in a dish”. If the patient has genetic heart disease, then their stem cells will also carry the disease when reprogrammed into the muscle.
Researchers can then study this isolated muscle to possibly discover new drug treatments.
Stem cell therapy is the perfect fit to replace damaged heart tissue. With stem cell therapy, researchers aim to repair or replace heart tissue damaged by congestive heart failure or heart attacks. In 2012, a study was conducted in which researchers treated 17 heart attack patients with an infusion of stem cells taken from their own heart. A year after the procedure, the amount of scar tissue had shrunk by about 50%. Studies like these have motivated researchers to delve into the relatively new use of stem cell therapies to repair or replace heart tissue damaged by congestive heart failure or heart attacks. Stem cell therapy could provide a reinforced and long-lasting treatment for heart problems, rather than just managing symptoms. Other studies that prove that stem cell therapy could be the most beneficial to treating heart disease are some animal studies that have shown that stem cell therapy can cause new muscle cells to form when dormant stem cells already inside the heart muscle are stimulated, as well as new heart muscle cells being formed from the administered stem cell.
Cardiomyocytes are the beating muscle cells that make up the atria, which are the chambers where blood enters the heart, as well as the ventricles, which is where blood is pumped out of your heart. Researchers are currently targeting cardiomyocytes in stem cell therapy for heart disease. The research behind stem cell therapy to treat heart disease and the effects of heart attacks is still extensive and requires several steps for a more reassured outcome. There is a lot of experimentation still being done with a variety of stem cell therapies to transplant new cells, using tissue engineering to improve the survival and function of the newly transplanted cells, and stimulate the existing cells to generate new cardiomyocytes.
Similar to any other new or developing cell therapies, the administering of stem cells into the heart can fail or cause some side effects. For example, if the stem cells are taken from an unrelated donor, the body’s immune system may reject them. Or, if the injected stem cells can’t communicate with the heart’s finely established system, there may be a development of dangerous heart rhythms, otherwise known as arrhythmias. However, these side effects have not been an issue in research, and the lack of this problem has only pushed researchers onward.
Because stem cell therapy related to the heart is always a delicate matter and needs constant research and study to be perfected, the estimated time for clinical trials to start for the most improved methods of stem cell therapy for heart disease isn’t until 2020. It has been reported that some illegitimate clinics claim to offer stem cell therapy for heart disease now, but stem cell therapy for the heart is still relatively new and still in the research phase, so these claims are false and dangerous.
Stem cell therapy has been one of the biggest medical advancements in the past couple of years. These therapies can be used to treat a variety of diseases and conditions, and the promise of stem cell therapy successfully treating heart disease is another hopeful advancement. Though research is still being conducted, it seems that stem cell therapy will find yet another success in aiding patients with heart disease to live healthier and happier lives.
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