Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, claiming around 1 million lives every year. But a new review published in The Cochrane Library suggests that stem cell therapy may be effective against the condition.

The review was conducted as part of The Cochrane Collaboration – an organization made up of medical professionals and researchers that prepare, maintain and promote reviews that assess the effects of health care.

According to the research team, including Dr. Enca Martin-Rendon of the University of Oxford in the UK, if stem cell therapy is used for at least 1 year in patients with heart disease, this could cut the number of deaths from the condition and reduce hospital readmissions.

To reach their findings, the investigators analyzed 23 randomized controlled trials involving 1,255 individuals with heart disease. Patients received either bone marrow stem cell (BMSC) therapy for their condition, standard treatment or no treatment.

The BMSC procedure involves collecting stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow, before injecting them into the heart to repair damaged tissue.

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A new review provides “encouraging evidence” that stem cell therapy may be effective against heart disease.

The research team admits that, within the first year after receiving stem cell therapy, patients did not see any benefits over standard treatment alone.

However, once past the 1-year period, investigators found that around 3% of people who received stem cell therapy died, compared with 15% of people who received standard or no treatment. In addition, 2 in every 100 people who were treated with stem cells were re-admitted to the hospital, compared with 9 in every 100 who received standard treatment.

The team notes that no adverse events were reported as a result of stem cell therapy.

Commenting on the findings, the study authors say:

Results from 23 randomized controlled trials, covering more than 1200 participants, to 2013 indicates that this new treatment leads to a reduction in deaths and readmission to the hospital and improvements over standard treatment as measured by tests of heart function.

At present, these results provide some evidence that stem cell treatment may be of benefit in people both with chronic ischemic heart disease and with heart failure.”

However, Dr. Martin-Rendon, also of the NHS Blood and Transplant in the UK, adds that although their findings are encouraging, larger studies are required to confirm the results.

“It is difficult to come to any concrete conclusions until larger clinical trials that look at longer-term effects are carried out,” he adds.

Dr. Martin-Rendon notes that, at present, it is unclear as to what type of stem cells are more efficient. Furthermore, he points out that it is also unclear why some patients respond better to stem cell therapies than others. These are some of the areas that will be investigated in future research.

“This review should help to raise awareness of the potential of stem cell therapy to improve patient outcomes,” says Dr. David Tovey, editor-in-chief at The Cochrane Library, “but it also demonstrates the importance of recognizing the uncertainty of initial findings and the need for further research.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study detailing the creation of a mini-heart that may improve treatment for people who have impaired blood flow. The researchers of this study note that if a part of the heart is made with the patient’s own stem cells, it will reduce the risk of the organ being rejected.