Chinese Surgeon Performs World's First Stem-Cell Treatments for Heart Disease

The two experimental treatments for heart disease were based on ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells.
Loukia Papadopoulos

A cardiac surgeon in China has performed the first two experimental treatments for heart disease based on ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells, reported Nature Magazine. The patients have recovered well one year later, reports the surgeon Wang Dongjin at Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital.


The procedures consisted of injecting the men with heart muscle cells derived from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. One of the patients Han Dayong, a 55-year-old electrician from Yangzhou in eastern China, revealed he is very happy with the outcome stating that he can now go for walks, climb stairs, and sleep through the night. 

Using stem cells to treat heart disease is not a new endeavor. Researchers have been trying to do it for years by using adult stem cells that they hoped would morph into muscle cells once inserted into the heart.

Those attempts unfortunately failed, and this is when researchers turned to iPS cells. These cells originate from inducing adult cells to revert to an embryonic-like state. 

So far, studies in rodents and monkeys have shown that injecting iPS-cell-derived cardiomyocytes directly into the heart does regenerate muscle tissue. Now, the two human trials could provide proof that the treatment works on people too.

However, since no study has yet been published, researchers not affiliated with the work are claiming there is no way to know whether the stem-cell therapy work or whether it was simply the adjoining heart bypass.

The team does plan to publish the results later this year, Wang Jiaxian, who heads the Nanjing-based biotechnology company HELP Therapeutics that supplied the heart muscle stem cells used in the study told Nature Magazine. The team will also include a further 20 patients to their study.

Finally, the work is not only being undertaken in China anymore. There are iPS-cell pilot studies underway in Japan, and others planned in France, the United States, and Germany.

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