McGill Researchers Announce New and Practical Approach to Regenerating Damaged Heart Tissue

Published: 4 May 2000

Researchers at the McGill University Health Centre and the Jewish General Hospital announced today that they have found a new and clinically simple way to regenerate growth in damaged heart muscle - which they say also responds to concerns about ethical practices.

"Our research has proven that if we insert marrow stromal cells (MSCs) taken directly from body of the recipient into the damaged heart, they are not only accepted by the remaining healthy muscle tissue, they also grow and become new heart muscle," explains Dr. Ray Chiu, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the MUHC and principal investigator on the research project.

Dr. Chiu's team presented the results of their research yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Thoracic Surgery in Toronto. Team members also include Dr. Jacques Galipeau, a haematologist and research scientist at the Jewish General Hospital, and a Fellow from the Veterans General Hospital, Taipei,Taiwan, Dr. Jih-Shiuan Wang.

"The benefits of our approach to treating damaged heart muscle are enormous both for the patient and the health care system," says Dr. Galipeau. "We have a virtually endless and ready supply of these cells from the donor's own body, the process of aspirating them from the bone marrow is a simple and common clinical process, MSCs are easily grown in incubators and implanting them in the damaged heart involves only minor surgery. There is no major surgery here, no waiting lists for a donated heart, and since the MSCs come from the recipient's own body, no fear of rejection or infection as is often the case with donated organs or tissue."

"This kind of easy, accessible source for regenerating damaged heart tissue is crucial because as our population ages, the medical and societal challenges of dealing with heart failure are only going to increase," explains Dr. Chiu. "Right now, heart failure is the only cardiovascular disease which is increasing in our society. In fact, it is the number one diagnosis for adult patients discharged from North American hospitals!"

Scientists in Canada and elsewhere have for several years been studying the possibility of using different cell sources to prompt regrowth of damaged muscle in the heart, a vital internal organ where tissue does not regenerate when damaged. And they have been successful, particularly in the case of human fetal cells. However, Drs. Chiu and Galipeau preferred to investigate a different source which they felt would avoid certain ethical concerns, and which was particularly practical because MSCs literally never stop growing in a patient's body.

The research carried out by Drs. Chiu and Galipeau is receiving international attention and additional support to the tune of $100,000 US from a Florida-based biotechnology company, Bioheart, Inc. The contract with Dr. Chiu's team was signed with McGill University's Office of Technology Transfer.

"The investment represents an initial one-year research agreement for Dr. Chiu's team - and reflects the on-going confidence in McGill researchers by the private sector even beyond Canada's borders," said Abraham Fuks, Dean of Medicine at McGill.

Dr. Chiu says the next steps in his research will involve the selection of the best technique for cell implantation, and confirmation that heart functions really do improve following implantation of MSCs...leading to potential clinical trials as early as two years from now.

The McGill University Health Centre comprises four major McGill teaching hospitals: the Montreal General (MGH), the Montreal Children's (MCH) , the Montreal Neurological (MNH) and the Royal Victoria (RVH) as well as the Research Institutes of the MGH, the MCH and the RVH.

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