HEART REPAIR: Harvesting semispecialized stem cells from an ailing heart, helping them to make millions of copies of themselves and injecting those cells into the heart enable the organ to break down scar tissue and grow new muscle. Image: Bryan Christie
- The emerging field of regenerative medicine may one day revolutionize the treatment of heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders, solve the organ donor shortage problem, and completely restore damaged muscles, tendons and other tissues.
- The key, researchers are learning, is to give the body a kind of starter kit—made of various proteins, fibers or cells—or to clone extra copies of the semispecialized stem cells that are already found in adult patients and to allow the body to take over from there.
- The extra help allows the body to regrow tissues of the type or in the amount that it normally could not do by itself. Already such self-healing treatments have somewhat rejuvenated a few patients' ailing hearts and helped surgeons repair injured muscles.
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In early 2009 Mike Jones bought a newspaper at a convenience store in Louisville, Ky., and read about a local doctor who wanted to try something unprecedented: healing an ailing heart by harvesting and multiplying its native stem cells—immature cells with regenerative powers. Jones, then 65, had congestive heart failure: his heart was no longer pumping blood efficiently. He contacted the doctor, Roberto Bolli of the University of Louisville, and in July of that year Jones became the first person in the world to receive an infusion of his own cardiac stem cells.
This article was originally published with the title A Change of Heart.