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Heart failure patient improves after clinical trial

July 24th, 2009


Mike Jones, center, answers questions at the July 24 press conference. Standing with him are Sohail Ikram, M.D., left, and UofL President James Ramsey, right.

A 66-year-old Louisville man with congestive heart failure has regained some heart function one week after undergoing a new treatment to heal the organ with his own stem cells.

Mike Jones, a self-employed painting and remodeling contractor, is the first patient to take part in the FDA-approved Phase I clinical trial conducted by University of Louisville physicians at Jewish Hospital.

On July 17, doctors injected Jones with his own cardiac stem cells in attempt to regrow the damaged muscle tissue in his heart. Since then, his heart function has improved from about 20 percent to 30 percent, said Roberto Bolli, director of UofL’s Institute for Molecular Cardiology.

Up to 20 people with damaged hearts will undergo the experimental procedure over the next two years, Bolli said. If it proves successful, researchers will expand the trial and the treatment could become widely available several years from now.

“We’ve studied this in rats, mice and pigs but this is the first time we’ve tried it in a human,” Bolli said. “If it works, it will be a revolutionary treatment for heart failure.”

Until now, people with late-stage heart failure have had only two treatment options, a heart transplant or implantation of a mechanically assisted heart device, said Mark Slaughter, a UofL cardiovascular surgeon who directs the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Assist Device program at UofL and Jewish Hospital.


Study leader Roberto Bolli, left, assists as Sohail Ikram, M.D., right, UofL professor of Medicine and director and chief of Invasive and Interventional Cardiology at Jewish Hospital, prepares to inject Jones’ stem cells back into his heart.

The new procedure is relatively simple and inexpensive, Slaughter said.

It takes doctors only about 10 to 15 minutes to harvest the stem cells from the patient’s heart. The cells then are isolated, grown in a culture to increase their numbers and injected back into heart scar tissue in a minimally invasive cardiac catheterization procedure that reaches the heart through an artery in the patient’s leg.

Heart failure is a leading cause of death in the United States, affecting some 6 million Americans a year, Bolli said. Only half of all patients with the ailment survive for a year.

“As our population grows older, even more people are going to be affected, which is why we need to develop a better treatment,” he said.

The early success of the clinical trial reaffirms the importance of investing in education, said UofL President James Ramsey. Bolli, the Jewish Hospital Heart and Lung Institute Distinguished Chair in Cardiology, was hired at UofL through the Kentucky Bucks for Brains program.

“This also shows how our long-standing partnership with Jewish Hospital and St. Mary’s HealthCare is benefiting people in the community and the state,” Ramsey added.

Doctors will recheck Jones every few months for the next two years to measure his recovery.

Jones said before he underwent the procedure, he could barely pass a football “three or four times” but now is exercising three times a day.

“I may even start jogging again,” he said.

Bolli received the American Heart Association’s Distinguished Scientist award last year for achieving several scientific milestones in his career. In 1998, his research team identified a molecule believed to protect the heart from damage. In 2005, he received an $11.7 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to continue his work.

A California hospital performed a similar procedure last month but used a different population of stem cells.

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