Next Steps for Cardiac Stem Cells – MedStar Heart …

By Sykes24Tracey

To determine why the first stem cell trials were not providing the anticipated therapeutic potential, all variables, such as which stem cells were used, and how they were developed and administered, were open to consideration, says Dr. Epstein.

A key issue was the use of autologous stem cells in all previous studies. Studies demonstrated these old stem cells are functionally defective when compared to stem cells obtained from young healthy individuals. So harvesting a healthy young donors bone marrow and growing the resident stem cells might produce more robust cells.

However, giving a patient allogenic stem cells raised an important issue: whether such cells will be rejected by an immune response. But research showed mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a type of adult stem cell, have been designed by nature to be stealth bombers, explainsDr. Epstein. They express molecules on their surface that prevent the body from recognizing the cells as foreign, so the patient does not reject the donated MSCs.

To further explore and refine potential stem cell cardiovascular therapies, MHVI expanded the translational research team to include Michael Lipinski, MD, PhD, an expert in molecular biology and scientific lead for preclinical research at the MedStar Cardiovascular Research Network, and Dror Luger, PhD, an expert in immunology and inflammatory responses. By bringing together these diverse areas of expertise, we forged a team with the potential to produce research that could lead to important breakthroughs in understanding how stem cells might work and thereby provide more successful treatment of patients with cardiac disease, says Dr. Epstein.

CardioCell, a San Diego-based stem cell company focused on stem cell therapy for cardiovascular disease, found that MSCs grew faster and showed improved function when cultured in a reduced oxygen environment. Stem cells typically grow in the body, in bone marrow and other tissues, in a low oxygen environmentonly five percent oxygen, as opposed to room air, which is about 20 percent, explains Dr. Lipinski. All previous stem cell trials used cells exposed to, and grown under, room air oxygen conditions.

Using CardioCells low oxygen-grown MSCs, the MHVI scientists demonstrated biologically important effects occurred, even when the MSCs were administered intravenously. This mode of administration was previously rejected by scientists who thought cells would be trapped in the first capillary bed they traversedthe lungsand never reach the heart.

However, the MHVI team demonstrated a small percentage of these IV administered MSCs did reach the heart, where they could exert beneficial effects. The cells seek out inflamed cardiac tissue after a heart attack because they upregulate receptors that allow them to be attracted to and penetrate inflamed tissue in high numbers, says Dr. Luger.

The investigators also found the cells residing in other tissues could provide other benefits. It has been shown that a heart attack activates the immune and inflammatory systems, including those in the spleen, explains Dr. Luger. The systemic anti-inflammatory effects produced by MSCs in the spleen, lungs and other tissues caused by the molecules secreted by the MSCs could exert positive effects as well. Dr. Epstein added that such anti-inflammatory effects could also benefit the excessive inflammatory activities that exist in many heart failure patients.

For the clinical heart failure trial, MHVI is partnering with CardioCell, which will grow and provide stem cells already used in Phase I and 2a clinical trials and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

As an extension of their stem cell work, the MHVI investigators are building on the fact that any beneficial effect of adult stem cells will not derive from their transformation into heart muscle, but rather from the molecules they secrete; these, in turn, stimulate pathways favoring tissue healing. The team is investigating the use of liposomes as therapeutic delivery vehicles for these secreted products, which include those with anti-inflammatory and angiogenesis activities.

If successful, using MSCs for anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory effects could have implicationsfor many different diseases, including arthritis and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Epstein cautions that a great deal of research is yet to be done before such applications can be routinely used to treat patients with these conditions. For now, they hope the current studies in heart failure patients will demonstrate effectiveness. If so, Dr. Epstein says, it changes the whole playing field for stem cells.

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