‘Re­pair kit’ for hearts of­fers hope to mil­lions

Sunday Express - - NEWS - By Lucy John­ston HEALTH ED­I­TOR

A METHOD of re­pair­ing dam­aged heart mus­cles has been called the “big­gest break­through since trans­plants”.

A high-level meet­ing has paved the way for global tri­als to be­gin on hun­dreds of pa­tients.

Bri­tish sci­en­tists have found a way to use stem cells to re­pair dam­aged tis­sue which could help mil­lions liv­ing with heart fail­ure, the UK’s lead­ing cause of death.

Scar­ring due to dis­ease or heart at­tacks af­fects more than two mil­lion peo­ple in Bri­tain.

Ini­tial tri­als in­volv­ing more than 100 pa­tients are be­ing planned for the au­tumn at two Lon­don hos­pi­tals.

World renowned car­diac sur­geon Pro­fes­sor Steve Westaby, who helped pi­o­neer the rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­nique, said it had been thought that re­pair­ing heart dam­age was im­pos­si­ble.

But re­sults from a long-term trial that be­gan in Greece five years ago have shown that this is not the case.

Pre­lim­i­nary data from this trial showed the en­gi­neered stem cells, known as Heart­cel, can re­verse scar­ring by up to 79 per cent.

The data, pre­sented at the Euro­pean So­ci­ety of Cell and Gene Ther­apy in Florence, showed an av­er­age of 40 per cent re­duc­tion in heart dam­age in those on the treat­ment.

Last month re­searchers fi­nalised talks with Euro­pean and US reg­u­la­tors to dis­cuss the timetable for global tri­als next year in­volv­ing 500 peo­ple.

Pro­fes­sor Westaby, from the John Rad­cliffe Hospi­tal, Ox­ford, said: “I am very ex­cited at the prospect of a trial which will hope­fully lead to the avail­abil­ity of this stem cell treat­ment to thou­sands of pa­tients an­nu­ally in the UK.”

Other sci­en­tists have tried in vain to re­pair dam­aged heart mus­cle us­ing stem cells but with­out suc­cess.

This is the first time scar­ring has been shown to be re­versible. It could her­ald an end to trans­plants and lead to a treat­ment for heart fail­ure within three to five years.

Pro­fes­sor Westaby said: “Dis­tin­guished sci­en­tists have tried to use stem cells to form new heart mus­cle over many decades but this has never worked re­li­ably and stem cell treat­ment of the heart had lost cred­i­bil­ity.

“This would be the big­gest break­through since the first trans­plants three decades ago.”

Pro­fes­sor Westaby has been work­ing on the tech­nique for more than a decade and is

‘This trial could lead to help for thou­sands of UK pa­tients a year’

car­ry­ing out the study with Pro­fes­sor Kim Fox, head of the Na­tional Heart and Lung In­sti­tute, at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don. The im­planted stem cells were cre­ated by med­i­cal out­fit Celixir, co-founded by No­bel lau­re­ate Pro­fes­sor Martin Evans, the first sci­en­tist to cul­ture mice em­bry­onic stem cells in a lab­o­ra­tory. Pro­fes­sor Westaby was in­spired to work on the break­through in 1999 af­ter a four-month-old baby girl’s heart healed it­self when he car­ried out a ma­jor life-sav­ing op­er­a­tion. Kirsty Col­lier, from Swin­don, was dy­ing of a se­ri­ous heart de­fect.

In a last ditch ef­fort Pro­fes­sor Westaby cut away a third of her badly dam­aged heart. Sur­pris­ingly it be­gan to beat.

A scan 14 years later showed the heart had healed it­self.

Pro­fes­sor Westaby said: “The fact there was no sign of heart dam­age told me there were foetal stem cells in ba­bies’ hearts that could re­move scar­ring of heart mus­cle. That never hap­pens in adults.

“It’s all down to the clues we got from Kirsty’s op­er­a­tion.”

AF­TER sci­en­tists found a way to achieve the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble, mil­lions could ben­e­fit from their lat­est break­through in the treat­ment of scarred heart mus­cles. In­vest­ment in re­search like this changes lives. It’s a fan­tas­tic achieve­ment and shows just how much we should value our sci­en­tists.

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