The largest ever trial of adult stem cell therapy in heart attack patients has begun at The London Chest Hospital in the UK.
Heart disease is the world's leading cause of death. Globally, more than 17 million people died from heart disease last year. In the US, over 1 million people suffer a heart attack each year, and about half of them die.
Heart attacks are usually caused by a clot in the coronary artery, which stops the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blockage is not treated within a few hours, then it causes the heart muscle to die.
The stem cell trial - titled "The effect of intracoronary reinfusion of bone marrow-derived mononuclear cells (BM-MNC) on allcause mortality in acute myocardial infarction," or "BAMI" for short - has been made possible due to a €5.9 million ($8.1 million) award from the European Commission.
The full study involves 19 partners across France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK.
Using bone marrow stem cells to prolong life
A total of 3,000 patients will be involved in the trial to test whether life can be prolonged by administering stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow. The stem cells are injected into the patient's heart within 5 days of suffering a heart attack.
The doctors behind the study hope that this could increase heart attack patients' survival rates by 25%.
"This trial brings together a powerful partnership of European doctors and scientists to solve a fundamental problem of importance to all people," says Prof. John Martin, from University College London - one of the partners in the trials.
"It will give an answer about whether adult multi-potential stem cells in their natural environment can treat human disease."
BAMI and REGENERATE
BAMI follows in the steps of three stem cell trials titled "REGENERATE." These trials, conducted by Barts Health NHS Trust in the UK, have been running for 4 years thanks to funding from the charities Heart Cells Foundation, The UK Stem Cell Foundation and Barts Charity.
The REGENERATE trials use bone marrow stem cells to treat patients with ischemic heart disease, acute myocardial infarction and heart failure caused by idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy.
Founder and trustee of Heart Cells Foundation, Jenifer Rosenberg OBE, comments: "On behalf of my fellow trustees and those who have so generously donated to our foundation, I am hugely proud that our own REGENERATE trials have paved the way for this new important European trial."
"The BAMI study is the biggest and most comprehensive trial of its kind in the world," adds trial chief co-ordinator Prof. Anthony Mathur. "It has taken 2 years to get to the point where we are ready to accept patients, but we have now reached that stage and we are all very excited. "
Prof. Mathur adds:
"Our studies will tell us if adult stem cells from bone marrow can repair damaged hearts and, if so, how these cells should be administered to patients. Stem cells are the body's master cells. They are unique because, unlike other cells, they can turn into almost any other type of cell in the body. This study will determine if adult stem cells can save lives in heart attack patients across Europe."
In 2012, Medical News Today reported on a trial in mice that found using stem cells to regenerate dead heart tissue after heart attack is only effective in younger hearts.