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Researchers hope cardiac stem cell transplants may help heart failure patients

01/26/2012 03:51 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Doctors have performed Ontario's first cardiac stem cell transplant using cells from the patient's own bone marrow.

Surgeons at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto performed a coronary bypass, then implanted cells that were isolated and prepared right in the operating room.

The patient, 67-year-old James Culross of Toronto, had almost three million stem cells injected into seven sites where his heart had been damaged by a heart attack in November.

Cardiac surgeon Dr. Terrence Yau says when a patient has a heart attack, part of the heart muscle dies and is replaced by scar tissue.

He says the larger the heart attack, the more likely it is the patient will develop heart failure, a condition in which the heart becomes progressively weaker.

"Patients develop shortness of breath, initially during activity but later at rest as heart failure progresses, and ultimately die of this disease," Dr. Yau said in a release Thursday.

Researchers hope the stem cell therapy can be developed into a treatment for the 50,000 Canadians diagnosed each year with advanced heart failure.

Cardiac stem cell transplants are considered experimental, and their safety and efficacy must be clearly proven in clinical trials before the treatment becomes part of accepted practice.

The Toronto team is part of a trial that also includes researchers at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal, where eight patients have been treated. The two groups will merge their results after each centre performs stem cell transplants in 20 patients.

The Munk Centre said a second patient underwent a successful stem cell implantation and bypass surgery this week.

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