Gen Suzuki, MD, PhD, and John M. Canty Jr., MD.

Gen Suzuki, MD, PhD (left), and John M. Canty Jr., MD, want to identify the best source of stem cells for heart failure therapy. Their study is funded by the NIH.

Stem Cell Study Evaluates ‘Off-the-Shelf’ Heart Failure Treatment

Published May 8, 2015

University at Buffalo researchers will test the effectiveness of using stem cells from donors to treat patients with heart failure.

Using cardiac stem cells that don’t need to be harvested from the recipient — along with administering them through catheterization — would make the therapies more widely available to the increasing number of patients in need of treatments for heart failure.
John M. Canty Jr., MD
Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor of medicine and chief of cardiovascular medicine
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The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has awarded $2 million for the four-year translational animal study.

The results could pave the way for a similar trial in humans and eventually help make stem cell therapy more widely available.

Donor-Derived Method Could Become Widely Available

“Using cardiac stem cells that don’t need to be harvested from the recipient — along with administering them through catheterization — would make the therapies more widely available to the increasing number of patients in need of treatments for heart failure,” says John M. Canty Jr., MD, Albert and Elizabeth Rekate Professor of medicine and chief of cardiovascular medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart failure affects more than 5 million Americans, half of whom die within five years of diagnosis.

Identifying Best Source of Stem Cells

The research team will test two types of stem-cell platforms to compare benefits for the treatment of heart failure.

“Using a randomized blinded design similar to clinical trials, the goal is to identify the best source of stem cells for therapy,” says Canty, the principal investigator on the project.

Both therapies stimulate the growth of new heart cells after a heart attack, he notes.

The cells will be infused into the coronary arteries of test subjects using standard cardiac catheterization methods. This relatively simple method delivers cells throughout the entire heart and would further enhance the availability of stem cell treatment.

Donor-Derived Process Offers Advantages

One approach would make it potentially feasible to use stem cells from an unrelated donor, offering significant advantages.

“Demonstrating the feasibility of using donor cells would provide an off-the-shelf approach to cardiac stem cell therapy,” Canty says.

The method involves growing multicellular cardiosphere-derived cells (CDCs) from minimally invasive heart tissue biopsies. 

Although CDCs do not develop into new muscle cells, they can improve cardiac function, Canty notes.

Canty and his team previously discovered that CDCs facilitate repair indirectly by stimulating the recipient’s own heart muscle cells to divide again.

Patient-Derived Method Can Work, Has Drawbacks

Another approach is to use cardiac stem cells (CSCs) harvested from the patient. 

When selectively harvested, they can be increased in number and then infused back into the recipient’s heart. 

“After injection, the new CSCs proliferate and are the source of new heart muscle cells,” Canty explains.

This method has involved injecting cells directly into heart muscle, requiring specialized equipment that’s not widely available, he notes.

What if the researchers find it’s more effective to use a patient’s own cells? One option, though time-consuming, would involve removing cells through a heart biopsy, then culturing them outside the body to boost their numbers before returning them to the patient, Canty says.

This method is already being evaluated. Canty and his colleagues have demonstrated it in animal studies. Researchers are testing it in clinical trials of other types of therapies.

UB Medicine, Nuclear Medicine Collaborators

Canty is collaborating with the following UB scientists on the project: