The heart does not function as well when we get older or after it has been damaged. Stem cells, found in our own bone marrow, have the ability to help repair the heart naturally. We are taking these stem cells and transplanting them into the hearts of patients with heart attacks, heart failure, or those with genetic disorders of the heart. So far we have treated over 170 patients and are awaiting the definitive results of our trials. In addition, we can introduce natural protective genes into the heart by using a harmless virus as a transporter. This work is now moving into human trials, after successful animal trials.
For patients with acute heart attack, our research uses stem cells from a patient’s own (autologous) bone marrow attempt to repair the heart. Uniquely, we give the cells within six hours of the onset of the heart attack. This is a clinical trial designed to make a treatment that is cost-effective and efficient for use within the NHS. Normally trials of new therapeutics are directed by industry; however ours is run by academics. The trial is funded by the UK Stem Cell Foundation and the Heart Cells Foundation. We are performing similar trials for the treatment of chronic heart failure in patients where there is no further treatment possible by conventional means, and are looking to forward to future work in dilated cardiomyopathy, a cause sudden death in the young.
Currently, our work has extended to leading on a European Commission funded clinical trial of 3,000 patients who are to be treated for heart attack with autologous bone marrow stem cells. This will take place in 27 European hospitals.
Key research activities
- Therapeutic Stent
On-going development of a new stent which is biodegradable and magnetisable, attracting stem cells injected into the coronary artery which are labelled with nanoparticles of iron. Normally stents induce a problem of “restenosis”, and a blockage of the coronary artery in the heart may recur because of the presence of the stent. In our novel project the stent will dissolve and the stem cells will seed a new lining to the vessel. Thus a damaged vessel could become viable again.
- Gene Therapy
Our research looks at gene therapy involving the delivery of beneficial genes to over-express their products at a site of damage in the body. We are using the common cold virus, which has been made safe in the laboratory, to deliver the gene that grows new blood vessels (VEGF) to the heart in patients with angina.
- Animal Models
A variety of animal models support the above human experiments. In particular we use the pig for heart attack and the rat, to develop gene therapy and stem cell therapy respectively.
- New Treatments
We are currently working on the development of a treatment for intra-uterine growth retardation by transfecting the uterine artery with adenoviral VEGF (with the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology).