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Stem-Cell Capsules for Heart Therapy

Alginate capsules release healing factors (October 10)

Around the world, thousands of patients with heart disease have been treated in clinical studies with some form of bone-marrow cells or stem cells. But in many of those studies, the effects on heart function were modest or inconsistent. One reason is that most of the cells either don’t stay in the heart or die soon after being introduced into the body.

Cardiology researchers at Emory University may have a solution for this problem. The researchers are packaging stem cells in a capsule made of alginate, a gel-like substance. Once packaged, the cells stay in place, releasing their healing factors over time.

The researchers used encapsulated mesenchymal stem cells to form a “patch” that was applied to the hearts of rats after a heart attack. Compared with animals treated with non-encapsulated cells or with nothing, rats treated with the capsule patches displayed increased heart function, reduced scar size, and more growth of new blood vessels a month later. In addition, more of the encapsulated cells stayed alive.

The results were published Oct. 10 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

One of the main effects of the stem cells seems to be in promoting blood vessel growth; in capsule-treated rats, the damaged area of the heart had a density of blood vessels several times that of controls.

In a clinical setting, the investigators’ goal is to use a patient’s own (autologous) cells as a source for cell-therapy materials. A source for mesenchymal stem cells could be obtained from the patient’s own bone marrow. The cells would need to grow outside the body for several days to have enough for a therapeutic effect.

Source: Emory University; October 10, 2013.

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