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Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Clinical Articles, News & Views

Stem cell therapies look promising for heart disease

Stem cell therapies work as a complement to standard treatments, potentially cutting the number of deaths after a year, according to evidence published recently in The Cochrane Library.1

Researchers examined data from 1,255 people from 23 randomised controlled trials, where all participants received standard treatments. Compared to standard treatment alone or with placebo, stem cell therapy using bone marrow cells resulted in fewer deaths due to heart disease and heart failure, reduced the likelihood of patients being readmitted to hospital, and improved heart function. However, researchers say that with much larger clinical trials underway, the findings are awaited to enable more certainty about the effects.

Although within the first year there were no clear benefits of stem cell therapy over standard treatment alone, when longer term data were analysed a year or more later about 3% of people treated with their stem cells had died compared with 15% of people in the control groups. Hospital readmissions were reduced to 2 in every 100 people compared to 9 in the control group, and adverse effects were rare.

Dr Enca Martin-Rendon (University of Oxford, UK), author of the review, said: “This is encouraging evidence that stem cell therapy has benefits for heart disease patients. However, it is generated from small studies and it is difficult to come to any concrete conclusions until larger clinical trials that look at longer- term effects are carried out.”

She continued, “It isn’t clear which types of stem cells work best or why stem cell therapies seem to work for some people but not for others. We need to find out what’s different in the people who aren’t responding well to these treatments as it might then be possible to tailor therapies to these patients, so that they work better.”

Dr David Tovey, Cochrane Editor-in-Chief, said: “This review should help to raise awareness of the potential of stem cell therapy to improve patient outcomes, but it also demonstrates the importance of recognising the uncertainty of initial findings and the need for further research. A Cochrane review aims to analyse all available data to give a clear picture of what the evidence shows. Ensuring health decision makers, health professionals and the general public has access to up-to-date, relevant evidence research will help to raise awareness of the effectiveness of treatments and medications and therefore improve health care.”

References

1. Fisher SA, Brunskill SJ, Doree C, Mathur A, Taggart DP, Martin-Rendon E. Stem cell therapy for chronic ischaemic heart disease and congestive heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD007888.pub2

Published on: May 28, 2014

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