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Stem Cell Research Provides Benefits for Angina

written by: AlyssaAst•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 7/31/2011

A study published in the3 July 2011 issue of "Circulation Research" indicates stem cells may produce benefits for severe angina sufferers. When study investigators injected stem cells into areas near the heart, patients reported fewer angina symptoms.

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    Angina is a pain in the chest caused by the reduction of blood flow to the heart. Angina causes a wide range of symptoms that can be difficult to cope with, including shortness of breath, chest pain, anxiety and fatigue. Even with treatment, this condition can produce many complications and make everyday tasks such as walking very difficult. A potential new treatment option seems to provide relief for this condition. The latest stem cell news suggests stem cells may actually produce benefits for angina sufferers. Angina affects more than 850,000 Americans.

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    Stem Cells and Angina

    Investigators conducted an experimental study using stem cells injected into the blood of study participants. This experiment produced positive results for patients who didn't respond to angioplasty, drugs or surgery when treating angina. The study consisted of 167 patients diagnosed with severe angina. Patients were injected with CD34+ stem cells in areas near the heart, allowing patients to experience fewer episodes of chest pain. Plus, the patients performed better on exercise tests when compared to patients who were injected with a placebo.

    The patients involved in the study were either given a placebo, low-dose CD34+ injection or a high dose of CD34+ over a period of several days. The blood was collected and processed to retrieve the stem cells for the experiment. A catheter was then threaded into the patient's heart to inject the stem cells into areas of the heart deemed deprived of oxygen.

    Investigators used the particpants' own stem cells for the CD34+ injections. Upon injection, the stem sells circulated throughout the blood supply, easing angina symptoms. It's hoped this treatment can some day be used to create new blood vessels to improve heart functions caused by other heart diseases.

    "Coronary artery disease involves not only the blockage of major arteries, but the death of small vessels, or capillaries, of the heart muscle," said AHA President Gordon Tomaselli, MD. "This treatment targets these small vessels that have been damaged. The stem cells have shown the ability to repair and replace them in animal models."

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    Using Stem Cells for Angina

    When severe angina sufferers are unable to find an effective course of treatment, everyday life becomes compromised as many struggle with fatigue, the ability to walk and other simple tasks. The use of stem cells may make life easier for angina sufferers.

    "These are patients who have been on drugs and may have had multiple angioplasties or CABG surgeries," Tomaselli said. "Their activities are severely restricted by their chest pain and right now we have little to offer them."

    The findings of the experiment could be just what patients need to regain a normal life. Patients were monitored, and after six months, the patients who received the stem cells reported far fewer angina attacks when compared to the group that received the placebo. Even 12 months later, the low-dose stem cell group continued to report a decrease in angina attacks when compared to the placebo group. Exercise tolerance increased for both stem cell groups by as much as 139 seconds. Additionally, the angina patients who received the stem cells used less nitroglycerin to treat angina after the experiment.

    Although these benefits may appear minor, study researcher Douglas W. Losordo, MD, of Chicago's Northwestern University said, "To put it in human terms, patients who might have been able to sit and watch TV without symptoms could now walk at a normal pace without chest pain, and someone who could walk at a slow pace might be able to ride a bike." Losordo went on to say, "The results are pretty undeniable. The [stem cell] treated patients had improvements in angina frequency and improvements in exertion times. The next step is to prove the treatment is clinically useful."

    Losordo is hopeful about the experiment's findings, stating, "While we need to validate these results in phase 3 studies before definitive conclusions can be drawn, we believe this is an important milestone in considering whether the body's own stem cells may one day be used to treat chronic cardiovascular conditions"

    If further testing proves the use of stem cells to be safe and successful for treating angina, it could offer new hope for patients who previously tried other treatment methods that failed. This study is said to prove that the stem cells are both a safe and feasible treatment option for patients with significant coronary artery disease.

    "There is an emerging notion that our bodies -- even the bodies of patients with significant disease -- contain this natural biology that can heal. We are just beginning to understand and exploit this pre-installed mechanism for self-repair," says Tomaselli.

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    "Stem Cell Treatment May Relieve Angina"

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