Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood through to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. It affects about 6 million individuals in the US and 23 million individuals around the world. The cost of heart failure continues to rise, placing a heavy financial burden on the US economy and the health care system. Overall, heart failure costs approximately $40 billion annually in the US.
Given its high morbidity, mortality, and costs, the research community is always looking for ways to reverse this condition. The current paradigm of treatment involves treating these patients with medications that either alleviate symptoms or slow progression of disease. For patients with advanced disease, treatment with mechanical support devices and/or heart transplant is possible, although a very small proportion of patients make it to that stage.
The most recent development in this field comes from a research group in Chile who conducted a trial in which they compared patients who were given an intravenous injection with stem cells from umbilical cords with patients who received a placebo. The stem cells used by the researchers were derived from umbilical cords, which were obtained from human placentas. These had been donated by healthy mothers who carried their pregnancy to term and had a cesarean delivery. The image above shows umbilical cord stem cells co-cultured with rat heart cells in vitro.
The results have been published in the journal Circulation Research. It was found that the therapy improved the heart’s ability to pump blood in the year after the treatment in the stem cell group. It also seemed to improve the daily functioning and quality of life of those treated.
These findings could improve survival rates for heart failure patients, which are currently quite disappointing. Do you have questions about heart failure? Click here to ask one of our top cardiologists.