Pioneering procedure uses patient’s own stem cells to heal his heart
Now in his 40s and a trainer for other athletes, Barry Brown was stunned by the reason for the fatigue and chest tightness that halted his routine workouts when he was 38. He had unknowingly suffered a heart attack, and three of his arteries were clogged, robbing his heart of 70 percent of its function. “I had to explain to my kids that I might die,” he remembers. So he didn’t hesitate when asked to join a study led by UHealth cardiologist Joshua Hare and the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute that is destined to shatter long-held scientific dogma. The researchers were extracting stem cells from the bone marrow of patients with heart damage, multiplying them in a lab, then injecting the cells back into damaged tissue during bypass surgery in hopes they would repair scarring. There was no guarantee Barry would receive the cells in the blinded study, but he enrolled. Nearly four years later, he was not surprised to learn he had indeed received the injection. He knew it while he recovered. “I could actually feel my heart healing,’’ he says. “On the third anniversary of my surgery, I celebrated by running a half-marathon.” Neither was he surprised that another of Hare’s studies would show stem cells did what every cardiologist once was taught was impossible: They regenerated heart tissue. “This is a complete departure from the way we’ve always treated heart attacks,” Hare says. “It is breathtaking.” Josua Hare, M.D.
Barry Brown’s surgery 3 years earlier.