Stem cell therapy for heart disease is happening. Around the world, thousands of heart disease patients have been treated in clinical studies with some form of bone marrow cells or stem cells. But in many of those studies, the actual impact on heart function was modest or inconsistent. One reason is that most of the cells either don’t stay in the heart or die soon after being introduced into the body.
Cardiology researchers at Emory have a solution for this problem. The researchers package stem cells in a capsule made of alginate, a gel-like substance. Once packaged, the cells stay put, releasing their healing factors over time.
Researchers used encapsulated mesenchymal stem cells to form a “patch” that was applied to the hearts of rats after a heart attack. Compared with animals treated with naked cells (or with nothing), rats treated with the capsule patches displayed increased heart function, reduced scar size and more growth of new blood vessels a month later. In addition, many more of the encapsulated cells stayed alive.
“This approach appears to be an effective way to increase cell retention and survival in the context of cardiac cell therapy,” says W. Robert Taylor, MD, professor of medicine and director of the cardiology division at Emory University School of Medicine and professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. “It may be a strategy applicable to many cell types for regenerative therapy in cardiovascular disease.”