Every year about 715,000 Americans have heart attack. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and for the first time, more women are dying of heart disease than men.
Having a heart attack can have a very major affect on your life and your lifestyle. But imagine how different that might be if stem cells could be injected into your heart and cause the dead heart cells to be replaced with new ones that could make your heart strong again.
It turns out that what sounds like science fiction is not that far away. To tell you where we are today with this cutting edge advancement I want to share an interview I did with Doris Taylor, PhD following a presentation she made at the North American Menopause Society. Dr. Taylor is Director of Regenerative Medicine Research at Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Texas. Here is a summary of our interview: To hear the interview, watch the video below.
A number of years ago we thought that gene therapy could play a role in the heart’s ability to repair itself. Unlike other tissues, your heart doesn’t have the capacity to repair itself very well. The reason for this is that if you don’t get to the hospital in 4 hours, a large number of the heart cells die, which is why you are told to dial 911 and get to the hospital as soon as you can if you think you are having a heart attack.
Women typically don’t get to the hospital fast enough because they don’t have the same symptoms. Before they go to the hospital they also have a tendency to ask, “Are the kids taken care of? Is the house clean?” They don’t want people coming into their house and seeing it dirty, so they clean up a bit first.
Women take their husbands to the hospital, but often don’t call 911 for themselves. When you have a heart attack your heart can’t repair itself. We wanted to repair the injured heart cells right away so the rest of the heart wouldn’t have to work harder.
So about 15-16 years age we and others began doing stem cell therapy; taking the stem cells from your bone marrow, blood, fat or muscles and transplanting them into the heart after a heart attack to see if those cells could replace the missing heart cells and repair the damage from the heart attack.
All that depends on the fact that you have stem cells to transplant. And we found that men and women have different amounts of stem cells; it turns out that women actually have many more stem cells than men.
Fast-forward a number of years and we find that these types of studies have only been marginally positive; but most have been done either only in men or mostly in men. And one of the questions may be that if we are giving men their stem cells and they have fewer cells, maybe they don’t have enough stem cells to get a good repair or maybe their stem cells don’t work as well; and maybe it would be different if we did the studies in women or used women’s stem cells to do the repair.
The stem cells come from your bone marrow, blood, fat or muscle. Your plastic surgeon could be taking out your liposuction and saving them to be placed into your heart. Stem cells from the fat seem to be among the most potent cells. In the next 2-3 years if you have a heart attack it may be possible to have your stem cells removed and placed back into your heart to repair it. And it is possible in that time frame that you will begin to see some stem cells become approved for use in the US. Some are already being used in Europe and Australia.
Many people will want their own stem cells. But there are studies underway using stem cells from 18-20 years olds harvested and grown to billions in a laboratory. These are already under study and being given to someone post heart attack in several clinical trials.
So just like we have egg donation, in the future we may start to see stem cell donation so that as you age you will be able to repair your aging body as opposed to the egg donation which creates a new one. At some point, it may be possible to use these stem cells to actually create a new heart.