Valentine’s Day: Fixing Broken Hearts With Adult Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Feb 14, 2012   |   2:46PM   |   Washington, DC

On the feast of St. Valentine, a story about broken hearts is in order. These broken hearts are not the result of unrequited love but instead due to heart disease.

One doctor is using a patient’s own stem cell to fix those broken hearts. Dr. Eduardo Marban and his team of researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles have been able to regenerate heart muscle lost to heart attack. From Fox News:

In a ground-breaking study that may change how heart attacks are treated, Dr. Eduardo Marban and his team used stem cells to re-grow damaged heart muscle. In the 17 patients who received the therapy, Marban measured an average 50 percent reduction in the size of the scar tissue

“One of the holy grails in medicine has been the use of medicine to achieve regeneration,” Marban said. “Patients that were treated not only experienced shrinkage of their scars, but also new growth of their heart muscle, which is very exciting.”

The stem cells were not derived from embryos, but instead were developed from the patients’ own hearts. Marban’s team inserted a catheter into the diseased hearts and took a small biopsy of muscle. In the laboratory, the tissue was manipulated into producing stem cells. After a few weeks of marinating in culture, researchers had enough stem cells to re-inject them into the patients’ hearts. Over the course of a year, the stem cells took root in cardiac tissue, encouraging the heart to create new muscle and blood vessels. In other words, the heart actually began to mend itself.

There is a reason Dr. Marban is using adult stem cells. He is Catholic; as is his wife Linda. They are both committed to healing without the destruction of innocent human life. From the Catholic Sentinel:

“I come from a culture that’s deeply Catholic,” said Eduardo Marban, who came to the United States from Cuba with his parents when he was 6 years old. “For me, that we could develop a treatment that was not ethically problematic, that was consistent with the Hippocratic Oath and the tenets of Catholicism, was very gratifying. We not only get a unique chance to do good, but we do it without trampling on anyone’s ethical principles.”

Linda Marban’s faith also threads throughout her life as a scientist.

“I am a strongly believing and practicing Catholic,” she said. “When I believe in God the most is when I look at a chart of cell signaling. When you see all those millions and billions of processes that we don’t even begin to really understand, there is no way some higher power didn’t generate that.” Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).