Texas Heart Institute studying how stem cells treat heart failure

A huge advancement in treating heart disease could be on the horizon. Researchers at the Texas Heart Institute are studying a high-tech way to use stem cells to spare lives and protect patients from the #1 killer.

Your heart is a powerful pump responsible for circulating blood that sends oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body, but when the heart can't keep up with those important duties, it's called heart failure.


"Typically, that means someone who gets very tired for a breath. If they cross a room or go up a flight of stairs, they're very limited in what they're able to carry out and there are different degrees of that, of course," explains Dr. Emerson Perin, the Medical Director of the Texas Heart Institute. 

Suffering from heart failure is life-altering and is often caused by inflammation.

"Just think of kind of a smoldering fire that's going on and it makes your own tissues kind of not work well, work against your body, and so the heart just doesn't work well," says Dr. Perin. He goes on to explain, reducing that inflammation is the key to treating heart failure.

Dr. Perin and his team are studying how well patients stabilize after treatment from stem cells.

"These cells, we're able to put them in the middle of the tissue, so we actually inject them directly into the heart. And they basically look around. They can sense their environment and they see, oh, this is a tissue that's in trouble, it's very inflamed. There are actually receptors on the cells for different things that we know are signals of inflammation," explains Dr. Perin.

He says those cells activate and counter the inflammation, not only in the heart tissue but in blood vessels all over the body. He and his team have been studying more than 500 patients for more than two years after their stem cell treatment. They're impressed with the results.

"If we look at heart attack and stroke, there was a 65% reduction in the amount of heart attack and stroke in the patients that got the cells injected into their heart versus the patients that we just simulated that and didn't inject the cells into their heart," says Dr. Perin.

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It reduced death related to cardiovascular issues by 80% in those with high levels of inflammation and less damaged hearts.

Treatment for heart failure typically involves dietary changes, including less salt and fluids plus prescription medications. Defibrillators and pacemakers are also sometimes necessary, but this treatment, using adult stem cells extracted from bone marrow, takes it to a new level.

"It's really fascinating! Everybody in the world walking around, has stem cells in every organ of your body. So you don't need to go searching for other sources, when we have them ourselves," says Dr. Perin.

The successful treatment sure has the Food and Drug Administration's attention, potentially becoming mainstream therapy for persistent heart failure, being developed right here in the Texas Medical Center. 

"Our research at Texas Heart is really focused on what we call translational medicine. It's not doing molecular things in a laboratory, test tubes. It's how do we take things that are innovated to patients and make patients better? That is our goal in life," says Dr. Perin.  


The Texas Heart Institute has presented their research on the stem cell therapy through a phase 3 clinical trial to the American Heart Association's Scientific Session. It involved a randomized, controlled 565-patient phase 3 clinical trial of patients with class II and class III persistent heart failure. Sponsored by biotechnology company Mesoblast, a world leader in developing allogeneic cellular medicines, the DREAM-HF trial is the largest cell therapy study in people with heart failure. This is one of many breakthroughs for the Texas Heart Institute, known for pioneering the first successful heart transplant and the first total artificial heart implant in the United States.

For more information: https://www.texasheart.org