Researchers have revealed that experiments on pigs have shown that secretion from human embryonic stem cells can minimize heart injury by reducing tissue death by 60 per cent.
Scientists at Singapore's Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) and Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) and The Netherlands' University Medical Center Utrecht say that their findings may pave the way for a novel way to improve survival and recovery rate after a heart attack.
Writing about their experiments in the journal Stem Cell Research, the team has revealed that heart function among the pigs administered the secretion from the stem cells was also found to improve during the study.
The researchers insist that by demonstrating the efficacy of this secretion in an experimental pig model, they have addressed the longstanding problem of reperfusion injury in the most clinically relevant experimental setting.
They have revealed that they chose pigs for the study because it is the closest animal approximation to the human heart in terms of size, structure and function.
"Using secretion instead of cells allows us to circumvent many highly intractable problems such as tumour formation, immune compatibility, cell viability, delivery, costs and timeliness," said IMB'S Dr Lim Sai Kiang, who leads the Singapore-The Netherlands collaboration.
Unlike the more common approach of directly administering stem cells for therapy, the new method carries negligible risk of tumour formation or rejection by the body.
The findings attain significance as they show that the new method can overcome the unwanted side effects of reperfusion-the restoration of blood flow to the oxygen-deprived heart after a heart attack-which is currently the best therapeutic option available to heart attack patients.
"This is a major discovery of clinical significance. There are some problems and issues associated with the use of stem cells to treat heart attacks and blocked arteries in the heart, and with this new method, many of these issues are removed. Potentially, we may have an important way to treat heart attacks. More tests will need to be done and human trials planned," said advisor to the Singapore researchers, Dr. Lee Chuen-Neng, who heads National University Hospital of Singapore's Department of Cardiac, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery. He also is Chair of Surgery at the National University Health System.
Professor Birgit Lane, IMB's Executive Director, said, "This is a very exciting result from Dr. Lim and her colleagues. It paves the way for improved recovery after heart attack -- a very practical outcome from stem cell research.
It is a great example of what can be achieved when doctors and scientists work closely together. By sharing their specialist skills and knowledge, they can discover and refine new approaches to curing sick people. This targeting of research to find ways of combating illness and benefiting people faster is at the heart of what we aim to do at IMB."