Could stem cells help repair your child’s heart one day?
Banking your newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood stem cells today could prove to be a life-saver for your family in the future.
Scientists are continuing to gain insight into the use of stem cell therapy to not only form healthy, new heart cells, but also to replace or repair damaged cells. We are moving ever closer to establishing a new and effective way to treat heart disease, and potentially other serious health conditions.
The role stem cells can play in combatting heart disease
Heart disease still poses the biggest risk to our health. It’s the number one cause of death worldwide. The American Heart Association reports that it causes 17.3 million deaths each year and that number is expected to increase to more than 23.6 million by 2030. Here in the UAE, 30% of all deaths are from cardiovascular diseases.
But help is at hand. In recent years, medical research has been focusing on the role of stem cells, with their renewal and repairing potential, as a way of helping to heal cardiac problems. A large number of clinical studies have been conducted, with many trials ongoing. So far, the results are very positive. The use of stem cell therapy to help heal the heart has proved to be consistently safe and, while there is still a lot to understand, this therapeutic approach holds great potential to help beat heart disease.
In recent years, medical research has been focusing on the role of stem cells, with their renewal and repairing potential, as a way of helping to heal cardiac problems.
Aiding recovery from heart failure
Despite more patients surviving heart attacks, they are often left considerably weaker because the heart muscle is permanently damaged. Scientists are looking at how stem cells can aid recovery by helping to repair the heart after it has suffered from failure.
After suffering a heart attack, the body releases its own stem cells into the bloodstream to help recovery. However, generally, there are not enough to repair the damage. One UK clinical study at the British Heart Foundation Centre of Excellence, at the University of Edinburgh, is currently looking at the possibility of boosting this natural healing process by delivering a large number of the patient’s own stem cells, extracted from the blood, directly into the area that has been damaged.
The trial will assess 44 people who have suffered heart failure after major heart attacks. The results of a pilot study of seven patients published earlier this year were very positive. It reported that six have seen significant improvements in cardiac function and now have near-normal heart function.
Stem cells regenerate and repair
Helping the heart regenerate itself after being damaged is under further investigation since the discovery by Italian scientists in 2003 that the heart does actually produce its own stem cells. Building on this revelation, researchers are now looking at how these stem cells can be instructed to form new heart muscle to help the heart heal itself.
The American Heart Association recently published results of a study of heart-failure patients who were given an intravenous infusion of cord blood stem cells. It reported that those who received the stem cells showed significant improvement to the heart’s ability to pump blood and suffered no adverse side effects.
Real hope for congenital heart disease
Another area seriously being considered is the potential of stem cell therapy to treat congenital heart disease (CHD) – problems with the heart’s structure that are present at birth. Scientists are looking at the possibility of making a replacement heart valve from a child’s own cord blood stem cells, using a cellularised graft created in the lab.
Another area seriously being considered is the potential of stem cell therapy to treat congenital heart disease (CHD) – problems with the heart’s structure that are present at birth.
The ultimate goal is to be able to diagnose CHD pre-birth and then once the baby is born, cord blood stem cells could be collected and a cell-engineered graft grown in the lab and then implanted in the infant’s heart. This new graft would then grow with the child and correct any abnormalities present.
Establishing consistency in treatment
While the future is certainly bright for cord blood stem cell therapy and heart health, it remains a relatively young science. One of the major hurdles to overcome is establishing consistency in treatment, which has a lot to do with the variables that can occur. For example, factors such as the actual timing of the stem cell delivery.
According to experts, if it is done too early the damaged tissue is too soft to accept the new cells, and if it is too late, the tissue becomes too hard and calcified. There is also the effectiveness of the delivery technique itself. Ongoing research is currently focusing on three different methods:
Intramyocardial injection: Injecting the cells straight into the heart muscle.
Intracoronary infusion: Using a catheter from a large blood vessel in the groin to deliver to the coronary artery.
Intravenously: Cells go straight into the bloodstream through a needle placed in a vein.
However, with all these methods, many of the stem cells tend to leave the body quickly so researchers are looking for better ways to make them ‘stick around’.
While there are many preclinical approaches that have shown great promise, there is a greater need for large-scale, coordinated clinical trials in order to demonstrate a dramatic improvement of cardiac function. The results of a US trial published in July this year, where researchers successfully used human stem cells to restore heart function in macaque monkeys with heart failure, are just one example of preclinical work which may or may not translate into clinical reality.
While there are many preclinical approaches that have shown great promise, there is a greater need for large-scale, coordinated clinical trials in order to demonstrate a dramatic improvement of cardiac function.
Baby blood cord banking
Stem cell therapy looks set to be our most effective weapon in the battle against heart disease. It’s potentially a viable and successful alternative to high-risk and costly heart surgery.
Globally, many parents are already safeguarding their family’s future by banking their baby’s cord blood stem cells at birth. It could be a wise choice for those with existing medical conditions in the family. It may also be a crucial part of curing an unexpected illness, not only heart diseases but other health conditions such as Leukaemia, Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Anaemia.
Ultimately, storing stem cells for life helps to keep future treatment options open.
Smart Cells is the UK’s first private cord blood storage company, helping parents from across the world take the pioneering decision to store the stem cells of their babies for greater security of health. For more information on umbilical cord blood banking or to organise a consultation, please email us on UAE@smartcells.com, or click here.
About the author: Shamshad Ahmed, CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International.
Shamshad Ahmed is CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International Ltd. Opening in 2000, Smart Cells became the UK’s first private cord blood company – its goal to give parents more access to potentially life-saving treatment for their families. It is one of the UK’s largest private banks, operating across the globe and storing over 50,000 cord blood samples from people in over 70 countries. Shamshad started his career in finance and foreign exchange at Citibank before moving over to the world of clinical trials. He holds a BA from Nottingham Trent University, and he has been a member of the Young President’s Organization since 2008 – having served on the board for a number of those years.