University of Leicester eBulletin

Bone Marrow Hope for Heart Sufferers

November 2002
No 266

New hope for sufferers of heart disease is possible, after research led by a University of Leicester surgeon indicates that bone marrow cells injected into a heart can help repair damage from a heart attack.

One million people suffer from heart disease in the UK, of which 140,000 die each year.

The pioneering research gave injections of bone marrow taken from 14 patients’ own breast bones during non emergency heart bypass surgery and again at six weeks and ten months. 

Within weeks areas of the heart that had ceased to operate began to beat again, a finding of particular importance since damage to the heart muscle cells is usually irreversible. Scar tissue resulting from a heart attack hampers the pumping of blood through the heart’s chambers, which can eventually lead to heart failure.

Professor Manuel Galinanes, of the University of Leicester Department of Surgery (Cardiac), presented the findings recently at an international conference in Chicago, USA.  

Professor Galinanes commented: “The benefit [of transplanting bone marrow into scar tissue of the heart] could be seen only six weeks after injection. The technique is a new way to strengthen heart muscles after a heart attack.  Bone marrow not only can differentiate into heart muscle cells but also smooth muscle cells, connective tissue cells and other types of cells to reconstitute the entire structure of a tissue.  

“We confirmed the scarring on the heart muscle before and during surgery. The ability to confirm the presence of scar tissue with dobutamine stress echo before surgery and then confirm it again during surgery told us that the affected area was dysfunctional and the abnormality was irreversible. We wanted to make sure that we were injecting the marrow into dead tissue to ensure that the injection would not pose any serious risk to the patient.”  

Professor Michael Galinanes
Professor Manuel Galinanes

The apparent ability of stem cells taken from bone marrow to transform themselves into different tissue types means that the implications of the research may be far wider than cardiovascular cases.

NOTE TO EDITORS:   Further information is available from Professor Manuel Galinanes, University of Leicester Department of Surgery (Cardiac), telephone 0116 256 3031/2, facsimile  0116 250 2449, and email mg50@le.ac.uk

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