By Caleb Hellerman, CNN, November 14, 2011.
On a June day in 2009, a 39-year-old man named Ken Milles lay on an exam table at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A month earlier, he’d suffered a massive heart attack that destroyed nearly a third of his heart.
“The most difficult part was the uncertainty,” he recalls. “Your heart is 30% damaged, and they tell you this could affect you the rest of your life.” He was about to receive an infusion of stem cells, grown from cells taken from his own heart a few weeks earlier. No one had ever tried this before.
About three weeks later, in Kentucky, a patient named Mike Jones underwent a similar procedure at the University of Louisville’s Jewish Hospital. Jones suffered from advanced heart failure, the result of a heart attack years earlier. Like Milles, he received an infusion of stem cells, grown from his own heart tissue.
“Once you reach this stage of heart disease, you don’t get better,” says Dr. Robert Bolli, who oversaw Jones’ procedure, explaining what doctors have always believed and taught. “You can go down slowly, or go down quickly, but you’re going to go down.”
Conventional wisdom took a hit Monday, as Bolli’s group and a team from Cedars-Sinai each reported that stem cell therapies were able to reverse heart damage, without dangerous side effects, at least in a small group of patients.