During a heart attack, what exactly happens inside your body? Patients who have suffered a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, would describe this as a sudden pain in the chest, coupled with a difficulty in breathing. This condition is very serious because the heart does not receive enough blood and as a result, would start to deteriorate. Physicians, especially cardiologists, have focused on the topic of heart health by promoting healthy lifestyles, including eating the right type of food items and participating in the appropriate exercise regimen. These measures can definitely increase the chances for a person to live longer.
In the event of a heart attack, the cardiac muscle cells of the heart are induced to undergo a process of self-destruction, called necrosis. It is thus critical for a person experiencing a heart attack to be given medical attention as soon as possible. Medical studies have shown that in a single episode such as this, an individual can lose approximately one billion cardiac muscle cells to necrosis, significantly decreasing the chances to live longer. For this reason alone, heart health has become one of the major goals of most medical-related organizations, including the World Health Organization.
One interesting fact about heart health is the correlation between the occurrence of a heart attack and the chance of suffering from heart failure and possibility to live longer. After a heart attack, a person still retains these necrotic cells in the heart and yet the entire organ has to supply blood to their entire body. Imagine a muscle machine such as the heart, with the size of your fist, working so hard to pump blood in and out at least 80 times each minute. It is possible that the heart would eventually stop pumping from fatigue, especially when a portion of its muscle cells has been damaged from an earlier heart attack. To live longer with a damaged heart is thus harder to imagine and to achieve.
Stem cells are the most promising therapeutic approach for the improvement of heart health. These cells are very unique in terms of their capacity to transform into specific cell types, depending on the composition of its immediate environment or where these are introduced into. In terms of heart health, stems cells derived from the bone marrow have the capacity to develop into muscle cells of the heart, arteries, and veins. Active research is currently being performed around the world, testing the potential of using stem cells in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases and ultimately, for people to live longer.
Several medical reports have described that injecting bone marrow stem cells into the heart of an individual who previously suffered a heart attack resulted in the development of new blood vessels in the site. In addition, the treated heart also showed an improvement in its capacity in contraction, thus preventing heart failure, improving heart health, and ultimately allowing the patient to live longer. Essentially, the introduction of bone marrow-derived stem cells improved the heart health of the patient by replacing cells and tissues that were damaged from a previous heart attack.
Clinical trials are now being conducted in different hospitals around the world, making use of stem cells from the bone marrow to improve the heart health of patients. Comprehensive clinic trials also examine specific features indicative of heart health, including the volume of blood that is pumped out of each ventricle. These medical research data are compared to those patients that did not receive any stem cells, or control subjects. So far, the reports show positive outcomes, yet there is still a need to further investigate the use of stem cells as a treatment strategy for improving the heart health patients and to basically live longer.
Despite the positive results of stem cell injection to heart health, it is yet interesting to determine the long-term effects of this novel therapeutic strategy. For example, should individuals with a high risk for a heart attack be given stem cells early on to prevent its occurrence later in life? Or by how many years will patients live longer when given stems cells for repair of damaged heart cells? And can a combination of stem cells and medications double the chances of a patient to live longer? There will be a need to conduct multi-center clinical studies to address these questions, using prospective screening of patients who have developed a heart attack and monitoring them through the years to determine if they indeed live longer.