CHICAGO -- New research suggests doctors may someday fix hopelessly damaged hearts with bits of tissue from other parts of the body.
Preliminary studies conducted in the United States and Europe raise the possibility that cells taken from bone marrow or muscles can be used to revive seemingly dead patches of heart muscle.
"If this proves efficacious, we will improve the quality of life of our patients and their survival. This will replace heart transplants," said Dr. Nabil Dib of the Arizona Heart Institute.
The inability of the heart to pump forcefully enough, a condition called heart failure, is a large and growing health problem afflicting an estimated 5 million people in the United States alone.
Two years ago, a French doctor described a novel alternative: He put millions of immature muscle cells into the badly damaged heart of a 72-year-old man. His heart began to pump more powerfully, although it was unclear whether the benefit came from the new cells or from coronary bypass surgery he received at the same time.
That physician, Dr. Philippe Manasche of Bichat Hospital in Paris, has now repeated the approach on 10 patients, and similar experiments are being conducted by teams in the United States, Germany, England and Poland.
Preliminary but encouraging data on these experiments were reported Sunday at the annual scientific meeting in Chicago of the American Heart Association. Doctors said the shifted cells can live inside the heart's dead scar tissue and show at least some signs of contracting like the original heart muscle.
"This is quite exciting and definitely new," said Dr. Timothy Gardner of the University of Pennsylvania, who is not involved in the studies.
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