Doctors are investigating whether patients with an irreversible heart condition can prolong their lives by having stem cells taken from their hip and injected into the damaged organ.
Experts at the Barts and the London Heart Attack Centre hope their work will lead to a major breakthrough for the UK’s estimated 30,000 sufferers with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The rare condition causes the heart muscle wall to become thin and floppy, making the heart progressively less able to pump blood around the body. Drug treatment can be of limited benefit, and ultimately patients deteriorate to the extent that they will die unless they receive a new heart.
Researchers led by consultant cardiologist Professor Anthony Mathur are about to start the world’s first randomised control trial exploring whether stem cell therapy can repair the patient’s heart. “We are using stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine to try to improve the heart’s function and maybe prolong their lives,” Mathur said. “These patients have such a poor prognosis, so it’s very important for them to be exposed to a potential new therapy that might change the outcome of their condition.”
Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM is a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged, and cannot pump blood efficiently. The decreased heart function can affect the lungs, liver, and other body systems.
DCM is one of the cardiomyopathies, a group of diseases that primarily affect the myocardium (the muscle of the heart). Different cardiomyopathies have different causes and affect the heart in different ways. In DCM a portion of the myocardium is dilated, often without any obvious cause. Left or right ventricular systolic pump function of the heart is impaired, leading to progressive cardiac enlargement and hypertrophy, a process called remodeling.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. It occurs more frequently in men than in women, and is most common between the ages of 20 and 60 years. About one in three cases of congestive heart failure (CHF) is due to dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy also occurs in children.
Although in many cases no cause (etiology) is apparent, dilated cardiomyopathy is probably the result of damage to the myocardium produced by a variety of toxic, metabolic, or infectious agents. It may be due to fibrous change of the myocardium from a previous myocardial infarction. Or, it may be the late sequel of acute viral myocarditis, possibly mediated through an immunologic mechanism. Autoimmune mechanisms are also suggested as a cause for dilated cardiomyopathy. A reversible form of dilated cardiomyopathy may be found with alcohol abuse, pregnancy (peripartum cardiomyopathy), thyroid disease, stimulant use, and chronic uncontrolled tachycardia. Many cases of dilated cardiomyopathy are described as idiopathic – meaning that the cause is unknown.