You may be familiar with the word systolic as the top number in blood pressure measurement. But systolic also refers to the portion of the heartbeat in which the heart produces the most squeezing force. People with systolic heart failure are not able to squeeze enough blood out of the heart, resulting in a reduced left ventricular ejection fraction. Systolic heart failure may cause symptoms such as fatigue, swollen ankles, wheezing, and shortness of breath, among others. Treatments to improve the heart’s ability to squeeze can help reduce the symptoms but unfortunately, those treatments are not always effective due to the damage of the heart. Since stem cells offer the promise of repairing damaged heart muscle, researchers have been examining ways in which stem cells can help treat symptomatic systolic heart failure.
Stem cell research focused on the treatment of systolic heart failure has been particularly robust. A recent systematic review article analyzed results of 29 published clinical studies showing the benefits of autologous bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells in patients with symptomatic systolic heart failure. The study authors found that people treated with bone marrow-derived stem cells had significantly better left ventricular ejection fractions. In other words, the hearts of stem cell-treated patients were able to squeeze more blood during systole. Interestingly, stem cells appear to help a patient to regain function from damaged heart tissue—something that is not possible with other heart failure treatments. This research shows that with stem cell treatment, the heart can result in better blood flow, decrease the areas of damaged heart tissue, and promote healthier heart muscle.
Perhaps more relevant for patients with this condition are the improvements in ejection fraction and heart function with tangible health benefits. Patients who received stem cell therapy had improved capacity to perform exercise after treatment and reported a higher quality of life. Stem cells also improved the patients’ New York Heart Association functional classification, which is a method of determining the severity of heart failure. Stem cell treatment has the potential to help patients with symptomatic systolic heart failure have less severe heart failure symptoms, better physical functioning, and improved quality of life.
Larger clinical trials are currently underway to determine the best type of stem cell for treating this condition, and the most effective way to administer those stem cells to patients. However, given the speed and enthusiasm of this research, patients may have the option to consider stem cell treatments for symptomatic systolic heart failure as a therapeutic option.