The biggest ever stem cell trial involving heart attack patients is currently underway and should demonstrate whether stem cells can be used to cut death rates and repair damaged tissue after a patient suffers a heart attack.
The study involves 3,000 patients in 11 European countries who will all have the standard treatment of inserting a small tube called a stent to widen their narrowed arteries. However, half of the patients taking part in the trial will also have stem cells taken from their bone marrow and injected into their heart, within days of them suffering a heart attack.
When a patient suffers a heart attack, a fatty plaque creates a blood clot inside an artery, which starves the heart muscle of oxygen and leaves scar tissue behind. Although increasing numbers of patients are surviving heart attacks, they can often be left considerably weaker because their heart muscle has been permanently damaged. Patients can also suffer from fluid build-up on the lungs after a heart attack and need to keep taking medication for the rest of their lives. Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the UK.
However, the results of previous trials have suggested that using stem cells to treat heart attack patients can make a difference. This new study, known as the BAMI (bone acute myocardial infarction), has received nearly £5m from the European Commission and will involve far more patients than any trials so far.
Professor Anthony Mathur, the chief investigator for this trial and director of cardiology at Barts Health NHS Trust believes that this trial, which is the culmination of 15 years of research, will prove definitively that stem cells can have a huge impact for heart attack patients. He hopes that the study will show that stem cell injections can reduce the number of people dying from heart attacks by 25%.
Doctors are currently unsure exactly how a patient’s bone marrow stem cells could help repair their heart, but one theory is that they release chemical signals that enhance the activity of the heart’s own stem cells. Donor adult stem cells have been used successfully for decades in bone marrow transplants, but in that situation it is a like-for-like replacement.
A successful outcome when the results of the trial are announced in five years could open up a whole new branch of medicine and offer heart attack patients a completely new treatment.
The implications of a positive outcome from this study are wide-ranging. John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London, one of the centres in Britain taking part in the study, believes that not only could this treatment save lives but it could also save the NHS a significant amount of money.
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