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Team develops new stem cell therapy for heart repair

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A research team led by a professor at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has succeeded in developing a new therapy for heart repair using stem cells, according to a press release issued yesterday by the university in southern Tainan City.

Patrick C.H. Hsieh, an assistant professor at the NCKU's Institute of Nanotechnology and Microsystem Engineering, College of Medicine, along with his team, successfully combined self-assembling peptide nanofiber hydrogel with stem cells from autologous bone marrow to treat an acute heart attack, or myocardial infarction.

Their experiment on Lanyu miniature pigs, which have a similar cardiac structure to that of humans, proved successful, making it possible that the new stem cell therapy for treating heart disease — the first of its kind in the world — can help boost the regeneration of myocardial muscle.

The discovery of the novel stem cell therapy was published in Circulation, the top international journal in the cardiovascular field, in September 2010, and both foreign and domestic patent applications are being applied for.

In Taiwan, there are approximately 2 million heart disease patients each year and 400,000 people suffer from heart attacks.

According to Hsieh, even if patients are lucky enough to survive, their myocardial cells lack the ability to regenerate. The cells cannot take intraventricular pressure and thus they will gradually expand and become thin, leading to heart failure.

“Even though recent research studies have indicated that many types of stem cells can be used to improve heart function and be clinically effective and secure, there is still room for improvement. For instance, when stem cells are cultured outside the body and injected into the heart, most of them are immediately carried away by the blood flow or else die quickly,” he said.

To solve these problems, Hsieh's research team injected the self-assembling peptide nanofiber hydrogel into damaged areas of cardiac infarction, a method that reduces the problems and in addition, takes only 30 minutes to perform.

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