After a myocardial infarction (heart attack), irreversible loss of contracting heart muscle cells occurs resulting in scar formation and subsequently heart failure. Current therapies designed to treat heart attack patients in the acute setting include medical therapies and catheter-based technologies that aim to open the blocked coronary arteries with the hope of salvaging as much of the jeopardized heart muscle cells as possible. Unfortunately, despite these advances over the past 2 decades, it is rarely possible to rescue the at-risk heart muscle cells from some degree of irreversible injury and death.
Attention has turned to new methods of treating heart attack and heart failure patients in both the acute and chronic settings after their event. Heart transplantation remains the ultimate approach to treating end-stage heart failure patients but this therapy is invasive, costly, some patients are not candidates for transplantation given their other co-morbidities, and most importantly, there are not enough organs for transplanting the increasing number of patients who need this therapy. As such, newer therapies are needed to treat the millions of patients with debilitating heart conditions. Recently, it has been discovered that stem cells may hold the therapeutic potential for these patients. Experimental studies in both animals and humans have revealed encouraging results when stem cells are injected into the heart in the areas of myocardial infarction. These therapies appear to result in improvement in the contractile function of the heart.
Despite these promising early trials, numerous questions remain unanswered concerning the use of stem cells as therapy for patients with heart attack and heart failure. To answer these questions and to ultimately offer this therapy routinely to patients, UCSF has launched a Translational Cardiac Stem Cell Research Program. This comprehensive program has four pipelines: 1) small animal model; 2) large animal model; 3) cardiac embryonic stem cell project; 4) human clinical trials. The program includes a multi-disciplinary team of practicing clinicians and basic and translational scientists with expertise in the various aspects of cardiac development and physiology. The aim of our laboratory is to advance the basic science and to translate our findings from bench to treat our patients at the bedside.