AHA 2010: Liposuctioned Fat Cells May Offer Hope after Heart Attack

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Unique treatment using fat-derived stem cells reduced heart tissue damage and improved cardiac blood flow in patients who had suffered a heart attack.

Stem cells isolated from fat cells liposuctioned from patients’ abdomens safely boosted heart function after heart attack, new study results show.

The treatment was the first of its kind in humans and reduced the amount of damaged heart tissue, increased blood flow in the heart and improved the heart’s pumping ability. These changes were not statistically significant, but the fat-derived stem cells worked as expected, said Eric Duckers, MD, PhD, lead author of the APOLLO study and head of the Molecular Cardiology Laboratory at the Thoraxcenter Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Duckers and his colleagues recruited 11 men and three women for the prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Fourteen patients were randomized — 10 received stem cells and four got a placebo. All patients had suffered a severe heart attack and had a catheter procedure to evaluate their heart damage within two to 12 hours of symptom onset.

Researchers used liposuction to remove 200-250 cubic centimeters of fat from the abdomen of each patient. From the fat cells, they isolated 20 million regenerative stem cells, which took nine to 10 minutes to infuse. Participants received cells within 24 hours of their catheterization.

Researchers used a system called Celution 800 device (Cytori Tx). With that device, physicians can isolate and sometimes infuse stem cells into the heart while a catheter is still in place. Researchers followed up after six months and reported positive results, which were presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2010:

  • Those receiving stem cells showed a 3.5-fold improvement in heart perfusion.
  • The average size of heart muscle scarring dropped by half from 31.6% to 15.4% in the treatment group. For the placebo group, the average area of damage remained the same as when the patients enrolled in the study.
  • The infused stem cells did not interfere with blood flow to the heart.
  • Stem cell therapy was not associated with ventricular arrhythmias, which are potentially fatal
  • Only two patients experienced adverse events from the liposuction. Both formed a hematoma.

Although the APOLLO study (A Randomized Clinical Trial of AdiPOse-Derived Stem ceLLs in the Treatment of Patients With ST-Elevation myOcardial Infarction) patients were white Europeans from the Netherlands and Spain “findings in the European population should be directly applicable to the United States population,” Duckers said. “But it is unclear whether the results would apply to non-Caucasians.”

APOLLO’s major limitation is its small size. Duckers and his colleagues now plan to extend the study to up to 375 patients at 35 medical centers in the European Union. “The results are very encouraging and it shows that the stem cell therapy is safe in its use,” Duckers said.

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