Cornwall woman gets groundbreaking stem cell treatment

A massive heart attack prompted Harriet Garrow to become the first patient participating in a groundbreaking clinical trial headquartered in the nation’s capital.

“I am thrilled to play a part in this research,” said Garrow, 68, of Cornwall.

Using a patient’s own stem cells — extracted from their blood shortly following a major heart attack — to regenerate the damaged organ, Enhanced Angiogenic Cell Therapy–Acute Myocardial Infarction is a promising game-changer.

Cells are enhanced then infused back into the patient’s heart using special catheters.

“Our strategy is to rejuvenate these stem cells by providing extra copies of a gene that is essential for their regenerative activity, so that they better stimulate heart repair, reduce scar tissue and restore the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently — in other words to help the heart fix itself,” said lead principal investigator of the trial Dr. Duncan Stewart from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Stem cells have “incredible potential to repair and regenerate damaged organs,” although cells from heart patients don’t have the same healing abilities as those from healthy young adults, said Stewart.

Whether the procedure is replacing damaged cells or helping damaged cells recover is anyone’s guess.

Nonetheless, “we know that if we improve the function of the heart, we improve the patient’s survival and we improve how well the patient feels — reduce their symptoms of shortness of breath or chest pain — and hopefully we make them live longer and live better,” said Dr. Chris Glover, one of Garrow’s physicians.

It’s unknown which group Garrow was in: those receiving a placebo, genetically enhanced stem cells, or non-enhanced stem cells.

That may be revealed at the end of the study, which could take three years, said Stewart.

Garrow was at home on July 2 when she felt pain under her left arm and numbness in her hand.

Paramedics resuscitated her and Garrow was admitted to hospital in Cornwall then transferred to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

An estimated 100 patients will be treated at the Heart Institute and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto over two years.

Patients aren’t exempted from attending cardiac rehabilitation and making dietary and lifestyle changes, said Glover.

“This study is therapy on top of best medical therapy,” he said.

Eligible participants must enrol within 30 days of suffering a heart attack and be treated at participating hospitals.

Twitter: @ottawasunkroche

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