Emergency heart attack patients will be injected with their own stem cells in a dramatic new treatment. The procedure, being pioneered by British doctors, holds out hope of a ‘cure’ as the stem cells repair damaged heart muscles.
The low-cost treatment, which involves removing stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow, could be given within a few hours of a heart attack.
It is intended to stop patients suffering further attacks and developing heart failure, something existing treatments fail to do in many cases.
If the initial trials in London are successful, the treatment is likely to be extended to NHS hospitals across the country.
As well as saving lives, it would also reduce the £7billion-a-year burden of heart attacks on the economy through hospital admissions, drug prescriptions and lost working days.
The new trials, however, would be the first in the world to give patients the cells within hours of their heart attack in a bid to prevent any heart failure developing at all.
After their angioplasty, those who agree will have stem cells removed from their hip using a needle under local anaesthetic.
The stem cells will then be placed in the same artery as the angioplasty - all within five hours of their original attack.
Doctors will then monitor the patients over the following months to establish how effective the stem cell treatment has been at preventing heart failure and repairing the damaged organ.
The research is being led by Professor John Martin, chair in cardiovascular sciences at the British Heart Foundation, and Dr Anthony Mathur of Barts and the London NHS trust.
The cost for each procedure has not yet been worked out. But Professor Martin said it would be very low as the cells come from the patients themselves, it does not prolong their hospital stay and the only expense is on needles and laboratory time separating out the muscle cells.
The research project, which is due to start after Christmas and will involve 100 patients, is being funded by the UK Stem Cell Foundation.