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These findings open the door to using this type of cells to treat human illnesses like heart attacks and strokes.
A study carried out by scientists at the Germans Trias i Pujol Institute for Research on Health Sciences in Badalona, in collaboration with the Catalan Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences (ICCC) and the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), has shown that stem cells from the umbilical cord can regenerate tissue damaged by strokes, heart attacks or peripheral artery disease. The study has been published in the scientific journal Plos-One under the title Human umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells promote vascular growth in vivo.
The tests done on mice were based on adhering a biological matrix of mesenchymal stem cells to the affected area of the heart. Four weeks later, the results were a revascularization of the cardiac tissue (myocardia) and a significant decrease in the infarcted area. Specifically, the hearts of mice treated with mesenchymal stem cells show infarction area three times smaller and twice the number of vessels than in mice not treated with these cells.
In 2007, the same researchers proved that these cells are present in blood from the umbilical cord and posited that they could possibly be used to regenerate the heart.
Currently, in addition to conventional pharmacological and surgical treatments to promote vascular growth in the affected area, the only therapeutic option that guarantees full functional recovery of the heart is a transplant. This option, however, is very limited due to the number of donors and the possibility of post-transplant rejection.
The next step is to study whether the regenerative effect of the cells clearly leads to improved cardiac function in the treated animals.