HOUSTON -

Doctors from the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital have found that patients with heart failure may be able to repair the damaged areas of the heart with stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow.

Doctors presented the findings at the American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session Saturday.

The results are from a multi-center clinical study that measured the possible benefits of using a patient’s own bone marrow cells to repair damaged areas of the heart suffering from severe heart failure, a condition that affects millions of Americans.

The study, which was the largest such investigation to date, found that the hearts of the patients receiving bone marrow derived stem cells showed a small but significant increase in the ability to pump oxygenated blood from the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, to the body.

The expectation is that the study will pave the way for potential new treatment options and will be important to designing and evaluating future clinical trials.

“This is exactly the kind of information we need to move forward with the clinical use of stem cell therapy,” said Emerson Perin, MD, PhD, Director of Clinical Research for Cardiovascular Medicine at THI, and one of the study’s lead investigators.

“The bone-marrow derived stem cells are helpful to the injured heart when they are themselves biologically active,” added Dr. James T. Willerson, the study’s principal investigator and President and Medical Director of THI.

“This study moves us one step closer to being able to help patients with severe heart failure who have no other alternatives.”

The study was conducted by the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network, the national consortium to conduct such research funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The study involving 92 patients was conducted at five sites, including THI, between 2009 and 2011.

Researchers found that left ventricular ejection fraction increased by a small but significant amount (2.7%) in patients who received stem cell therapy.

The study also revealed that the improvement in ejection fraction correlated with the number of certain stem cells known as CD34+ and CD133+ in the bone marrow.

Patients’ bone marrow cells were also sent to biorepository, where studies were done on the phenotypes and functional characteristics of the cells.

Younger patients had a higher content of CD34+ and CD133+ cells in their bone marrow and had higher ejection fractions after stem cell treatment.

This kind of analysis is essential for autologous (using a patient’s own cells) therapy, said Dr. Perin.

They will help identify which patients will most likely benefit from cell therapy.

Such information is also important in designing future trials.