A Change of Heart: Stem Cells May Transform Treatment for Heart Failure

Stem cells may transform the way doctors treat heart failure

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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.

Before treatment, Jones could barely climb stairs. Today he feels well enough to chop his own firewood and clear fallen tree limbs from his nine-acre property. His “ejection fraction,” a measure of how much blood the heart pumps from one chamber to another, increased from 20 to 40 percent in the two years following the experimental treatment—lower than a typical level (in the 55 to 70 percent range) but still a dramatic improvement.

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