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Stem cells from strangers can repair hearts, study says

Published: Monday, Nov. 5 2012 11:16 p.m. MST

In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 photo provided by the University of Miami, Dr. Joshua M. Hare, director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, performs a heart biopsy, a preliminary step in one of several cardiac stem cell trials at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Researchers are reporting key advances using stem cells to fix weakened, damaged hearts. In one study, bone marrow cells donated by unrelated strangers helped repair hearts, suggesting that cells could be banked for off-the-shelf use in patients after heart attacks the way blood is banked now. (AP Photo/University of Miami) (Associated Press) In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 photo provided by the University of Miami, Dr. Joshua M. Hare, director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, performs a heart biopsy, a preliminary step in one of several cardiac stem cell trials at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Researchers are reporting key advances using stem cells to fix weakened, damaged hearts. In one study, bone marrow cells donated by unrelated strangers helped repair hearts, suggesting that cells could be banked for off-the-shelf use in patients after heart attacks the way blood is banked now. (AP Photo/University of Miami) (Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES — Researchers are reporting a key advance in using stem cells to repair hearts damaged by heart attacks. In a study, stem cells donated by strangers proved as safe and effective as patients' own cells for helping restore heart tissue.

The work involved just 30 patients in Miami and Baltimore, but it proves the concept that anyone's cells can be used to treat such cases. Doctors are excited because this suggests that stem cells could be banked for off-the-shelf use after heart attacks, just as blood is kept on hand now.

Results were discussed Monday at an American Heart Association conference in California and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study used a specific type of stem cells from bone marrow that researchers believed would not be rejected by recipients. Unlike other cells, these lack a key feature on their surface that makes the immune system see them as foreign tissue and attack them, explained the study's leader, Dr. Joshua Hare of the University of Miami.

The patients in the study had suffered heart attacks years earlier, some as long as 30 years ago.

Researchers advertised for people to supply marrow, which is removed using a needle into a hip bone. The cells were taken from the marrow and amplified for about a month in a lab at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, then returned to Miami to be used for treatment, which did not involve surgery.

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