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New Heart Disease Research & Technology

posted on February 12, 2007 at 2:09 PM

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For the millions of Americans suffering from heart disease, stem cell research may hold the promise of a new medical frontier. But we’re all too familiar with the controversies surrounding this new science. Researchers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, though, are investigating whether a patient’s own stem cells can be used to repair cardiac arteries, helping to restore vital blood flow to the heart itself.

Anderson: Stem cells are really fundamentally a way of replacing cells that don't work anymore with new ones. People talk about stem cells, and at some level we know what they are, but there's a whole range of cells that have different degrees of stemness, if you will, how potent are these cells, how many different kinds of cells they can become.

Narrator: The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is one of the first medical centers in the country to participate in clinical trials investigating whether a patient's own stem cells can treat a form of severe coronary artery disease. Use of these stem cells is legal and may provide relief for cardiac patients in dire need.

Anderson: The clinical research is for patients who have constant pain or angina from not enough blood flow going to their heart and they don't have other options. And by that I mean they don't have blood vessels that can be fixed by balloon and stint treatments or by open-heart surgery to revascularize the heart. Patients will provide their own stem cells, if you will, that have been recruited from bone marrow, and these cells are injected into areas that we can objectively measure are starved for blood. And the goal of these stem cells is to grow new blood vessels to supply those areas of the heart that are underprofused with blood. I think it's reasonable to consider stem cells as one tool in the toolbox and one that is very, very promising in its early days. We're trying to understand how that tool works, but as we fight things as complicated as heart disease or cancer or Alzheimer's disease, we want to have the full toolbox.

Narrator: Another new tool for cardiac care at the University of Iowa is the 64-slice computed tomography scanner. The product of advances in imaging technology, the scanner is allowing physicians to see heart problems and plan treatments with noninvasive tests.

Van Beek: This machine arrived here courtesy of the Board of Regents as a new clinical initiative. It was awarded to us jointly between radiology and cardiology. The purpose of most of the images we do here is to look at the coronary artery in patients with symptoms mainly, so the images we create are focused on the coronary arteries, but at the same time we also see the entire heart. We can look at all the cardiac chambers. We can look at how the heart functions and look even outside the vessel at the main organs and structures that are a part of the chest. What we can do by stacking thousands of images together is re-create the beating heart for multiple heartbeats. This will also give us information on how well the heart works. We can really look at the way the heart muscle contracts and pumps the blood out, and we can actually calculate exactly how much blood volume is pumped out with every heartbeat.

Dorothy Anderson: I’ve had a heart problem since 1982, and now that I’ve aged a little bit, there’s some hardening, is the way I’ve had it described, in the ventricle of the heart.

Van Beek: The message to people with or without heart disease or patients at risk of heart disease is that there is hope.

Dorothy Anderson: When I began this problem, technology wasn't what it's like today. And so consequently, I am very grateful for this because in my father's family there is much heart disease. And so I guess I come by this rather naturally, and anything that can be done now is great because I plan to live a while yet.


Tags: health heart Iowa research technology


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