Monday, December 17, 2007

Muscle cell therapy repairs damaged heart

OSAKA--A medical team at Osaka University Hospital has succeeded in restoring function to the heart of a patient with severe cardiac disease using muscle cells taken from one of the patient's thighs, it has been learned.

The male patient in his 50s, who had been waiting for a heart transplant, is now able to walk unaided, and will leave the hospital in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, on Thursday, according to the hospital.

It is the first time in the world that a patient waiting for an organ transplant has been successfully treated using their own cells.

"The treatment can be a good alternative to heart transplants," said Yoshiki Sawa, director of the Medical Center for Translational Research at the hospital.

In the treatment, the team first removed about 10 grams of muscle tissue from the patient's thigh. From the muscle tissue, it then extracted myoblast cells, which are the main building block of muscle fibers. The team cultivated the cells and formed them into sheets about four centimeters wide. They then wrapped the diseased heart with three layers of the myoblast sheets.

The treatment was approved in July 2006 by the hospital's ethics committee as part of clinical research into dilated cardiomyopathy--a disease in which the heart becomes swollen and unable to pump blood efficiently.

The male patient began suffering from the disease around 2004, and was hospitalized in January 2006. Despite being fitted with a pacemaker the following month, he continued to suffer serious symptoms.

The patient registered with the Japan Organ Transplant Network in August 2006, and had been waiting for a heart transplant.

The medical team took the myoblast cells from the patient at the end of March this year, and then spent two months creating 25 myoblast sheets. At the end of May, the team attached the sheets to the patient's heart, mainly around the organ's left ventricle, which is key to circulation.

After the treatment, the patient's heart functions, including pulse rate and quantity of blood pumped, all improved rapidly. On Sept. 5, or 98 days after the treatment, it became possible to remove the pacemaker. According to the hospital, the man's heart functions have almost fully recovered, and he is able to lead a normal daily life.

"The myoblast sheets were not transformed into heart muscle, but they apparently released substances that assist the functioning of weakened heart muscles. We'd like to conduct further research on the treatment so we can apply the method to other cardiac diseases and to some children's conditions," Sawa said.

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