Patients suffering from severe ischemic heart disease — also known as coronary artery or coronary heart disease — who have exhausted their treatment options with traditional therapies may have new hope through an innovative clinical trial taking place partly at the MGH. The trial, called the Autologous Cellular Therapy CD34-Chronic Myocardial Ischemia trial, uses patients' own stem cells to promote the growth of new blood vessels, improving circulation in hearts damaged by inadequate blood flow and potentially reducing chest pain. Douglas Drachman, MD, and Kenneth Rosenfield, MD, both interventional cardiologists at the MGH Heart Center, are the lead investigators.
In this trial, each patient's natural stem cell production is augmented through injections of growth factors, and the stem cells are harvested from the patient's bloodstream. Using an advanced imaging system that allows physicians to create a three-dimensional image of the heart, the researchers are able to precisely target areas where increased blood flow is most needed, maximizing the potential impact of the stem cells. With minimally invasive techniques, a specialized catheter is then used to inject the stem cells directly into the heart muscle at these targeted sites with the goal of stimulating the growth of new blood vessels. The MGH is the only site in New England participating in this trial.
STEM CELL HOPE: From left, Rosenfeld; Philip Magcalas; Thomas Kiernan, MD; and Drachman
"This stem cell therapy could offer an alternative for patients who otherwise might not have other options — patients who have lifestyle-altering or disabling angina," says Drachman. "It may provide new hope for these patients when conventional treatments, such as medication, angioplasty, stenting and bypass surgery, have failed or are no longer feasible." Adds Rosenfield, "Implementing this trial has required extensive collaboration within the Heart Center and beyond, in large part coordinated by study nurse Cristina Breuggeman. The preparation and handling of patients' stem cells has hinged upon the efforts of Drs. Christopher Stowell and Thomas Spitzer and the members of the MGH Cell Laboratories and the Hematology-Oncology Division. It is the successful cooperation of many disciplines that enables us to bring novel therapies like this to patients who have nowhere else to turn."