The prevalence of heart disease is enormous: one out of every three men, and one out of every four women, will develop heart disease in their lifetime. Heart disease can be caused by a number of factors, but results in an inefficiency of the heart to pump blood, or cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. The most common cause of heart failure is the loss of functioning heart muscle due to the damage caused by a heart attack. Damaged areas can turn irreversibly into scar tissue after the initial event, which predisposes a person to future heart attacks and leads to an ongoing worsening of general health.
One out of every three men and one out of every four women will develop heart disease in their lifetime, with an estimated cost to the nation of $32 billion per year.
Progress Toward a Cure
To date, California’s stem cell therapy development program has awarded more than $198 million in funding to heart disease research. One promising project at Stanford is working on a stem cell therapy using heart cells derived from embryonic stem cells to treat heart attack victims. Researchers direct these embryonic stem cells to become heart muscle cells called cardiomyocytes. Transplantation of healthy cardiomyocytes could be used to improve cardiac function following a heart attack.
Another project at Cedars-Sinai Medical Institute is focusing on recovery from heart attack. The team developed an approach to grow cardiac stem cells in clumps called cardiospheres. In animal models, transplanting stem cells derived from cardiospheres into sick hearts helps the heart maintain function and reduce scarring. Building on this work, a team at Capricor Therapeutics is leading an FDA-approved human clinical trial for heart failure. In the trial, treatment is administered during a single brief procedure, directly injecting cardiospheres into the heart muscle via a catheter, thereby increasing the effective dose of the cells. The overriding goal for the product is to prevent patients who have had a heart attack from deteriorating over time and developing heart failure. This clinical trial began in June 2012, and has since moved through Phase 2 clinical trials, at many sites across the country, with some patients showing significant recovery. The clinical trial is currently in the follow-up stage for Phase 2.