Breakthrough In Singapore's Stem Cell Research

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Heart muscle-like cells developed from adult stem cells in Singapore's National Heart Center have been shown to interact with and improve the function of a failing heart in animal studies

It is an exciting time for NHC as our own scientists, working with clinicians, bring their own research, validated and tested, to benefit our patients

Stem cell researchers and clinicians at Singapore's National Heart Centre (NHC) have made an important breakthrough in their research.

Studies have revealed that heart muscle-like cells generated from an adult's own stem cells using a NHC's patented method, have contributed to increasing the pumping force of the heart.

Data from the study will be presented at the upcoming European Society of Cardiology Congress 2008 in Munich, Germany, proofing further that Singapore is Asia's Leading Medical Hub.

The study, the first in the world, shows that human adult stem cells that are converted into heart-like cells before transplant are better than transplanting whole stem cells directly, which is the most widely used form of cell therapy for heart failure today.

Many patients with heart attack sustain irreversible injury to the heart leading to heart failure and symptoms of breathlessness. For patients with severely damaged hearts, whole organ heart transplant is sometimes the only hope, but the challenge lies in finding a donor.

A potential benefit of this study is that through the processes developed by NHC, a patient with heart failure can potentially harvest his own stem cells, process them in a lab over a few weeks to optimize them, then transplant his own converted heart-like cells back into the heart to help 'repair' or 'heal' the heart. This may alleviate his symptoms and delay the need for a whole organ transplant.

Since the process is using a patient's own cells, immuno-suppressants to prevent rejection will not be needed.

The study, in its sixth year, has studied the stem cells of 43 patients undergoing bypass surgery with a patent filed for the isolation and expansion of the heart-like cells.

Besides improving the pumping action of the heart, researchers have found that these cells are 'smarter' and able to move themselves into areas of the heart that need them most. These heart-like cells also aid in preventing swelling of the heart, a detrimental and often irreversible process making symptoms more difficult to treat.

"It is an exciting time for NHC as our own scientists, working with clinicians, bring their own research, validated and tested, to benefit our patients," said Dr Philip Wong, director of NHC's research and development unit and senior consultant of the department of cardiology.

The cell therapy research program is in its final translational phase and clinicians have been optimizing a non-surgical method of delivering such cells.

For more information download a personal copy of 'Patients Beyond Borders Singapore Edition'.

About the National Heart Centre Singapore

The National Heart Centre (NHC) Singapore is a 185-bed national and regional referral center for cardiovascular diseases. Each year, NHC handles over 90,000 outpatient consultations, 6,000 interventional and surgical procedures and 9,000 inpatients. The center's outcomes for heart attack treatment, balloon angioplasty and bypass surgery have been shown to be equivalent to international standards.

NHC is also the first heart center outside USA and in Asia to receive Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation since 2005. JCI is the gold standard for hospital accreditation.

About the SingaporeMedicine Initiative

Launched in 2003, SingaporeMedicine is a multi-agency government-industry partnership committed to strengthening Singapore's position as Asia's leading medical hub and international health care destination.

Led by the Ministry of Health of Singapore, SingaporeMedicine is supported by three government agencies: the Economic Development Board, which develops industry capabilities, the International Enterprise Singapore, which fosters regionalism by Singapore-based health care players, and the Singapore Tourism Board, which markets Singapore as a healthcare destination to inbound international patients and develops associated people-oriented services.

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