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Stem Cells, Heart Disease and Hope... and the Little Engine That Could

I think I can, I think I can. . .

All agree that the children’s tale The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper inspires both children and grown-ups to seek a better future. There are many parallels between this simple tale of resolve and fortitude to the exhausting search for cures to heart and vascular diseases. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, heart failure is the number one reason to be hospitalized, and with diabetes and obesity rates climbing in an ever-aging population, the outlook may appear bleak.


On the other hand, stem cells have recently emerged as potential revolutionary treatment for heart and vascular disease. Adult stem cells have shown promising benefits in animal studies, and are now being tested in human studies. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison and nationwide, this treatment is being administered to patients with the following conditions:

  • Heart failure due to poor heart muscle pump function
  • Recent heart attack victims
  • Chronic severe angina or chest pain due to severe coronary artery blockages
  • Chronic and disabling leg pains due to severe leg artery blockages.

Cell treatments might work by repairing damaged tissue, creating new blood vessels or preventing ongoing damage.

But, like the little train, we are not there yet. There is still a long track ahead for patients afflicted with these conditions, and investigators who seek to understand the science behind stem cells. The true heroes in the current day story are our patients who volunteer to participate in these trials. Many of these people hope to feel just a little better after the treatment, while others simply feel privileged to know that their participation may help the future generations with heart and vascular disease. We are excited to have recently established the Options Clinic to help guide those patients who have been told by their own doctors that “no options” exist for them. The future may not be so bleak.


You may be asking yourself, who is this guy? Well, I am a husband, a father, a physician, a scientist and a mentor. I am proud to oversee a team of highly-trained professionals within the University of Wisconsin clinical cardiovascular regenerative medicine program. Our mission is to one day find durable cures for heart and vascular disease, and we think that stem cells or gene therapy may be the answer. My role models are those husbands, fathers, physicians, scientists and mentors before me who have helped make the future for others just a little better. And just like those role models before me who had that little train inside of them, I too hear the whispers of “I think I can, I think I can. . .”


If you or someone you know suffers from heart disease or peripheral artery disease and have been told by your doctors that there is little or nothing more that can be done, please feel free to contact us to find out more information or schedule an appointment at the Options Clinic. We are interested in listening and learning about your story. We may have new treatments or investigational treatments that may apply to you or your loved one.


Learn more about the Options Clinic