Stem Cells: Healing Hearts

Study Contact Information
(608) 265-0612
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Steve MyrahMADISON - Steve Myrah has traveled to Costa Rica and Belize to admire exotic birds. He's journeyed to South Africa on an animal-watching excursion. And this summer, the 68-year-old retired university administrator and his wife are planning to sail the Aegean Sea.
He's traveled the world, but Steve Myrah can't walk a block down his own street without having chest pains.
Having suffered from severe coronary artery disease since his mid-40s, Myrah is participating in a trailblazing clinical trial investigating whether a person's own stem cells can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the heart.
Myrah is the first patient to be treated in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health portion of a national study investigating the use of adult stem cells to treat patients with a severe type of coronary artery blockage called chronic myocardial ischemia (CMI). Myocardial ischemia is a serious heart condition that results in limited blood flow to the heart, affecting hundreds of thousands of new individuals each year.
Promising Treatment Offers New Hope
Like Myrah, patients eligible for the study have exhausted other conventional "revascularization" treatments to restore blood flow in the heart, such as surgical coronary artery bypass or angioplasty.
"In patients without other options who have failed medical therapy, this treatment strategy offers the potential of new hope for improved quality of life," says Dr. Amish N. Raval, head of cardiovascular regenerative medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Raval is the principal investigator for UW's portion of the study.
Myrah, who first began experiencing chest pains in the 1970s, has undergone three angioplasties - a procedure to restore blood flow through several narrowed arteries in his heart - and a five-vessel coronary artery bypass surgery. None of these procedures offered permanent relief for his pain.
Myrah says he's optimistic about the innovative new treatment, though he recognizes that he might have received a placebo rather than his stem cells.
"I'd settle for half as much chest pain as I have now," says Myrah, who daily wears time-released nitroglycerin patches to help ease his discomfort. The patches must be removed for eight hours a day, so he also uses four to seven under-the-tongue nitroglycerin pills a day.
Using Stem Cells to Stimulate Vessel Growth
In February 2007, Myrah was injected with a protein that helps to release adult stem cells called CD34+ from his bone marrow into his bloodstream. Next, Myrah was connected to a special cell separation system to collect the CD34+ stem cells from his bloodstream.
Targeting the area of Myrah's heart with poor blood flow, Dr. Raval then injected the stem cells (or a placebo) directly into Myrah's heart muscle using a special cardiac catheter.
This innovative new area of research is called regenerative medicine - treating disease by using growth factors, genes or stem cells to promote blood vessel or tissue growth.
In a phase I trial investigating the CD34+ stem cell injections into the hearts of CMI patients, 15 of the 18 total subjects who received the cells reported feeling better with reductions in chest pain and/or improved exercise capacity.
Subjects in the current phase II study are randomly selected to receive either one of two dosing levels of CD34+ stem cells, or placebo. Researchers will conduct follow-up examinations in the ensuing 12 months.
Steve Myrah, meanwhile, is hoping to regain the energy to join his wife, Dagny, on the nature trails at the Pheasant Branch nature conservancy near his Middleton home.
"She misses me," Myrah says. "That's something I'd really like to be able to do with her someday."
Participating in the Study
To be included in the study, patients must:
  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Experience chronic chest discomfort at rest and with minimal exertion
  • Have found inadequate relief from medications; and
  • Be unsuitable candidates for conventional revascularization techniques, such as surgical bypass, angioplasty or stents

Approximately 10 volunteers are being recruited for the UW arm of the study. For more information, contact study coordinator Soni Vander Ark, RN, at (608) 265-0612.

Date Published: 06/20/2007

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