Dying patient saved with his own stem cells and mechanical heart
A DYING heart patient has been saved after he was given an artificial heart and injected with his own stem cells, a British surgeon said yesterday.
The procedure – believed to be a world first – used stem cells in attempts to rebuild the damaged muscle in the heart.
Experts welcomed the development, but said more research was necessary before it could be more widely used.
Professor Stephen Westaby, based at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, led the team that operated on Ioannis Manolopoulos in Thessaloniki, Greece, to fit him with the mechanical pump.
Mechanical hearts – also known as left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) – are currently used temporarily to support the failing hearts of people waiting for a transplant.
Currently, the devices are used on only a handful of patients in the UK each year.
Mr Westaby said that the use of the patient's own cells, extracted from his bone marrow, represented the first time the two treatments had ever been combined.
Mr Manolopoulos, who is recovering after the operation two weeks ago, said: "If things go well, I must go to church and pray because I feel very lucky to get this device and have the chance of a normal life."
He had been in hospital for four months after at least two heart attacks and other treatments had failed to improve his condition.
The mechanical device diverts blood away from the damaged pumping chamber to allow his heart to repair itself.
In many patients, the muscle heals so well that the pump can be removed later.
Professor Christos Papakonstantinou, heart surgeon at the Ahepa University Hospital in Thessaloniki, said: "We hope the combination of stem cells and pumps will enable patients to enjoy life for many years."
Mr Westaby said that the NHS currently only funds a handful of operations every year to give pumps to transplant patients who are waiting for a donor heart.
He said: "I am very frustrated that all the work that I have done back home in the UK has to be translated into patient care in other countries.
"We have helped to develop implantation programmes in France, Greece and Japan. It's time we did it in the UK.
"The economics in the health service are the problem. So many patients could benefit that the costs would be substantial."
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said that before any procedure could be offered on the NHS, there had to be good evidence to prove it was safe, effective and affordable.
"The stem cell aspect of the treatment carried out in Greece is not based on evidence," he said.
"Studies are under way to assess how and when stem cells may be used for heart repair, but there's still a long way to go.
"We urgently need a robust and controlled trial of permanent treatment with 'mechanical hearts' compared to conventional therapies for patients with severe heart failure."
A spokesman for the Scottish Stem Cell Network said: "This represents exciting progress.
"It identifies a role for stem cells by taking them into the clinic in a controlled manner.
"This latest procedure is a positive one as we are trying to move forward to the clinical phases where stem cells can be put safely into patients."
The spokesman said the operation was similar to a procedure carried out last year involving a transplant of a windpipe made with a female patient's stem cells extracted from her bone marrow.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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Wind direction: North east