Fat (cells) good for the heart?

You’ve heard about stem-cell enhanced fat grafts for rejuvenating the face and the hands…but here’s a new & very cool idea: stem cells to fix an ailing heart.

Here’s the concept: Do some liposuction, and isolate out the small percentage of fat-derived stem cells from the rest of the fat enzymatically. Take these stem cells, and inject them (carefully!) into the heart muscle. The stem-cells then go on to repair the damaged heart muscle, hopefully helping the heart function better, and improving the patient’s symptoms and quality of life.

In the United States, more than one million patients have a severe form of heart disease, known as “no-option chronic myocardial ischemia” with a 10 year mortality rate exceeding 20% and an annual healthcare cost of more than $10 billion. If the idea works, it would be a huge step forward for these patients.

A recent multi-center, 27 patient, double-blind, placebo-controlled European study known as “PRECISE“, looked at this very idea, and the results were recently presented at the American Heart Association meeting. And they are very promising. The patients selected really had no other option, other than cardiac transplantation. As part of the procedure, a small amount of fat tissue was removed with liposuction from each patient’s abdomen. The stem cells were then extracted, and injected into the muscle of the left ventricle.

The researchers found that the stem-cell treated patients not only had a lower cardiac mortality rate over the course of the study, but that they could perform more physical activity after the treatment, and that the heart had a higher functional capacity and better maximum oxygen consumption (reflecting a higher work capacity) when compared to untreated control patients.

Impression: very exciting stuff! Sure it’s a small study, but if it pans out in larger trials, this could be a major breakthrough. Soon, maybe we’ll be seeing the plastic surgeon helping out some CCU (coronary care unit) patients with liposuction for stem-cell harvesting.

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