Cardiovascular diseases continue to be the leading cause of death globally, accounting for nearly 18 million deaths each year with heart attack and stroke accounting for 80% of deaths.
Recently, stem-cell-based therapy has demonstrated the potential to regenerate damaged myocardium and to treat a wide range of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Specifically, the ability of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to differentiate into cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells, and vascular smooth muscle cells has created a potentially new and promising therapeutic approach for the treatment of CVDs.
Huang et al. summarize the recent advances in MSC therapy, including the role of exosomes in future treatments of CVDs.
Recent studies have demonstrated that MSCs were able to secret cholesterol-rich, phospholipid exomes that were enriched with microRNAs (miRNAs). These exomes are nano-sized particles originating from multivesicular endosomal ranging in size from 30 – 100 nm and contain cytokines, proteins, lipids, mRNAs, and miRNAs. These exosomes are suggested as central mediators of intercellular communication and transfer proteins, mRNAs and miRNAs to adjacent cells.
The miRNAs found in exosomes play an essential role in various physiological and pathological processes by regulating gene expression at the post-transcription level. When applied in the cardiovascular system, miRNAs are internalized into CMCs and ECs and result in cardiomyocyte protection and angiogenesis promotion that has demonstrated beneficial and anti-inflammatory effects including cardiac regeneration, neovascularization, and anti-vascular remodeling; these observed benefits include improved cardiac function after a myocardial infarction (MI), reduced inflammation related to pulmonary hypertension, and increased tissue healing following an ischemia-reperfusion injury.
Huang et al. conclude that the studies evaluated in this review provide evidence that MSC-derived exosomes play an essential role in MSC-based therapy of CVDs including MI, reperfusion injury, and PH. Considering these conclusions, the authors call for additional studies to determine the detailed mechanisms and underlying benefits to determine their exact role.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death across the world. This umbrella term, also referred to as heart disease, collectively includes a broad range of cardiovascular conditions, including:
Coronary artery disease
Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
While these conditions have unique characteristics, they all affect the heart and blood vessels. For instance, in coronary artery disease, the most common cardiovascular disease, the buildup of plaque (known as atherosclerosis) narrows or blocks the arteries. The arteries harden, limiting the amount of oxygen-rich blood that makes its way to the heart. The heart can therefore not pump blood to the rest of the body as needed. In myocardial infarction, or heart attack, blood clots around the plaque. If the blood flow becomes completely restricted, the heart can no longer get necessary oxygen. In ischemic stroke, the clot prevents the blood flow to the brain.
There are also medications and surgical interventions available for certain types of heart disease. With that being said, experts are also exploring stem cell therapy as an alternative or additional treatment.
Stem Cell Therapy for Cardiovascular Disease
Stem cell therapy is the use of the body’s natural, versatile cells to promote healing. Stem cells act as the foundation for other cells and have natural anti-inflammatory properties. As such, they can promote healing in damaged cells and tissues, as well as regeneration. When transplanted into patients with cardiovascular disease, it’s believed that the cells could release healing factors to reduce inflammation, promote new blood vessel development, minimize cell death, and regenerate new, healthy cells.
According to ClinicalTrials.gov, there are more than 1,500 studies that have been or are being conducted regarding the use of stem cells in patients with cardiovascular disease. Scientists have already made strides by discovering several key benefits across a number of cardiovascular conditions. For example, stem cells have been shown to:
Improve left ventricular function, blood flow, and quality of life following a heart attack.
Improve the heart’s functional capacity and ventricular remodeling, as well as quality of life, in heart failure.
Improve limb function and decrease muscle atrophy, autoamputation, and connective tissue damage in peripheral artery disease (PAD).
In particular, human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells are showing remarkable promise for chronic conditions such as heart disease. They have a number of powerful properties, including:
No exposure to environmental toxins or impact from the aging process
High rate of regeneration
High proliferation ability
Abundant supply of cells compared to those extracted from adipose tissue or bone marrow
These cells are administered intravenously, and because they are not sourced from the patient themselves, minimize discomfort and recovery time. While stem cell therapy may not be for every patient with cardiovascular disease, the right candidates seeking a safe, non-surgical option may wish to explore the treatment. If you’re interested in exploring stem cell therapy, contact a Care Coordinator for a free assessment!
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