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Adult stem cells taken from bone marrow can improve heart function in patients who have suffered a heart attack, German researchers said.

Stem cells are master cells that can develop into specialized cells. Adult stem cells can be obtained from many different body tissues, such as bone marrow, fat tissue, heart muscle, and even baby tooth pulp. They hold the promise of treating a range of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease.

For an easy-to-understand explanation of stem cells, click here.

Dr Helmut Drexler, of the Medical University of Hannover in Germany, used adult stem cells from bone marrow of heart-attack patients to see if they could improve heart function.

“Our results lend support to the concept that … bone-marrow cells can be used to enhance … functional recovery in patients,” he said in a report in The Lancet medical journal.

Drexler and his team randomly selected 60 patients who had received treatment following a heart attack, to receive either an injection of the stem cells into the artery supplying the damaged area of the heart or standard therapy.

Six months later, the stem cell transfer patients had about a 7 percent improvement in function of the heart, compared to 0.7 percent in the other group. While the results are encouraging, Drexler noted that, as always, larger trials are needed.
[London, Reuters;, 8Jul04; 10jul04, N.Valko RN]