Fat cell hope for heart attacks

By Helen Briggs
Health reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Millions of stem cells are found in fat tissue

Fat cells taken from the waistline could hold promise in treating heart attacks, say researchers.

A pilot study on 14 patients in the Netherlands and Spain found that stem cells extracted from fat and delivered to the heart appeared to boost heart function after a heart attack.

Doctors now plan to extend the study to over 300 heart attack patients at 35 clinics in Europe.

A UK heart charity said the approach was "promising".

The research, which was presented at the American Heart Association's annual conference, followed 14 patients who had suffered a severe heart attack.

Doctors used liposuction to take fat from the abdomen of each patient, extracted millions of stem cells, then delivered these to the heart within 24 hours.

Ten of the patients were given stem cells; while four had a "dummy" treatment.

Six months on, the patients given stem cells had a lower amount of damaged muscle in their hearts - about 15% compared with 25% in the control group.

Lead author, Eric Duckers, of the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said: "The study suggests that these cells can be safely obtained and infused inside the hearts of patients following an acute heart attack."

Professor Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, said small clinical trials in the last few years had tested whether stem cells from bone marrow could help the heart recover after a heart attack, "with some promising results".

But he called for further research.

"This pilot study shows for the first time that stem cells from a patient's fat tissue may be similarly beneficial, indicating a potential new and more convenient source of stem cells," he said.

"However, since we still know very little about the way these cells could help to repair the damaged heart, there needs to be more research to understand what the stem cells actually do.

"That will help us to understand more about how they could be used for real patient benefit."

The results of the study, known as Apollo, were not statistically significant, possibly because of its small size.

Researchers now plan a larger trial which will look at the treatment in more detail.

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