Stem cells to repair heart damage? Not so fast

Dozens of clinics offer unproven stem cell therapies for heart failure. Despite steady progress, this experimental treatment is not ready for prime time.

Published: January, 2018

Illustration: Scott Leighton

A heart attack cuts off blood flow to part of the heart's muscle, usually causing lasting damage. Over time — especially in people with repeat heart attacks — the resulting scar tissue can hinder the heart's ability to function normally, leading to heart failure.

For nearly two decades, scientists have studied how stem cells might repair a damaged heart and restore its function. These unique cells, which have the potential to grow into a variety of heart cell types, can be made from other cells (see "What's new in cardiac regeneration?").

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