Heart Beat: Follow-up: Stem cell therapy: Still more hope than help

Heart Beat

Follow-up: Stem cell therapy: Still more hope than help

A handful of studies have revealed an exciting but very preliminary possibility that stem cells from the bloodstream, thigh muscle, or even the heart itself could be used to heal damaged hearts. This field is in its infancy. The few clinical trials underway as of fall 2005 are testing not only whether stem cells work, but just how safe they are.

The lack of knowledge hasn't stopped a company called TheraVitae from offering its "VesCell" therapy at the Bangkok Heart Hospital and Chaophya Hospital, both in Thailand. For $34,000 (which doesn't include transportation, treatment of unrelated complications or additional heart problems, or medical tests such as echocardiograms or MRIs), the company will collect stem cells from your blood and inject them into your heart. Once there, these stem cells are supposed to grow into healthy heart muscle.

According to the company, "every patient who has come to Thailand from abroad for treatment has shown improvement in varying degrees, ranging from just 'feeling better and being more active' to actually returning back to work." That's a broad claim, one that has yet to be borne out by clinical trials. And it doesn't mention the complications that occurred in some of the early trials, done in Paris, in which 4 of 10 volunteers who got stem cell injections developed serious heart rhythm problems.

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