Umbilical cord stem cells could treat heart failure

A new treatment using stem cells from the umbilical cord increased ejection fraction and improved quality of life in heart failure patients, according to a study published in Circulation Research.

In the randomized, placebo-controlled study of 30 adults with stable heart failure, left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) improved by 7.07 percent in patients receiving umbilical cord-derived stem cells versus 1.85 percent in control-group patients. These averages came after one year of follow-up.

Patients in the stem cell group averaged a half-class improvement in New York Heart Association functional class at three months, and progressed to a 0.62-class improvement at one year.

“We are encouraged by our findings because they could pave the way to a non-invasive, promising new therapy for a group of patients who face grim odds,” study corresponding author Fernando Figueroa, MD, professor of medicine at the Universidad de los Andes in Chile, said in a press release.

The study’s authors noted recent reviews have suggested bone marrow-derived stem cells may have positive effects on individuals with heart failure. However, cells from the umbilical cord hadn’t previously been studied in this context despite being widely available and devoid of the ethical concerns associated with other stem cells.

In their research, the umbilical cords were obtained from full-term human placentas from healthy donors by caesarean section after informed consent. Patients underwent intravenous infusions with either the stem cells or placebo. No safety complications were reported.

While encouraged by their findings, the authors said additional studies are needed to evaluate the treatment on a larger scale.

“Albeit ours is a small series, only the (umbilical cord-derived stem cell) treated group exhibited significant improvements in left ventricular ejection fraction at 3, 6 and 12 months of follow-up, both by transthoracic echocardiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging,” wrote lead researcher Jorge Bartolucci, MD, and colleagues. “This suggests our patients might experience benefits regarding major clinical outcomes, although this observation requires verification in a larger phase 3 clinical trial.”