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June 2007 Issue

Jim Hulett participated in a clinical trial where stem cells were injected into his ailing heart. Six months later, he says he has the energy to enjoy his favorite hobbies again—like working in the yard and fixing things around the house.
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Stem Cell Therapy Gives Heart Patient Another Chance

By Katie Pence
Published June 2007

Jim Hulett, 62, said he’s been able to do more yard work this season than he has in six months or more.


“I’m very careful,” said Hulett, a West Chester resident who recently participated in a stem cell clinical trial run by UC’s cardiovascular diseases division. “I keep a chair handy, just in case I need to rest. I feel stronger at this point, but I don’t know what to expect.


“I do know that I feel strong enough to attempt the kinds of things I wouldn’t have otherwise.”


Hulett is one of 150 patients expected to receive treatment in the multi-center trial. On April 5, in one of the first studies of its kind, physicians chemically extracted stem cells from his bone marrow and injected them directly into areas of his heart that lack sufficient blood flow.


Neal Weintraub, MD, said the trial, which began at UC at the end of December, is designed to identify alternative therapies for patients who have persistent heart symptoms despite conventional therapy.


Hulett was a perfect candidate. He’s had 10 angiograms over the last five years, seven stents and triple-bypass surgery following a series of heart attacks. Despite all of those procedures, plus a handful of medications each day, he has continued to suffer with frequent chest pains that hamper his ability to function.


“We want to help those who may have an insufficient quality of life due to coronary artery disease,” Weintraub said. “The hope is that stem cells will help form new vessel networks to deliver blood flow to the heart and alleviate the symptoms of angina, the chest pain caused most commonly by blockages in the coronary arteries.”


In the procedure, stem cells are mobilized into the blood and collected using Hoxworth Blood Center’s Amicus blood cell separator, a process known as apheresis. The specific stem cells needed are identified using a magnetic cell selection system. Then, staff from UC’s catheterization lab inject the purified cells into the patient’s heart.


What’s different about this study, says Weintraub, is that obtaining the cells is less invasive compared with previous methods of harvesting them. In addition, a cardiac navigation system is used to map the heart and guide a catheter, equipped with a needle, to inject the stem cells into the areas that lack sufficient blood flow. No surgery or large incision is involved, so patients are allowed to go home the next day. Their progress will then be monitored for a year.


“Our goal is to improve our patients’ functionality and give them better tolerance for exertion,” Weintraub said.


He added that a third of patients participating in the trial receive a placebo.


Hulett said he isn’t sure if he’s part of the placebo group or not, but he’s feeling positive effects.


“Time will tell,” he said. “It’s really too soon to know anything for sure, but I feel like I’m increasing in strength, and above all I’m feeling optimistic about all this.”


Hulett added that besides being able to get his hands a little grimy sprucing up his backyard this spring, he’s been able to spend time with his wife.


“We’re practically newlyweds,” he said with a chuckle. “This might give us more time to spend together. I also have nine grandchildren who participate in sports, and I want to be an active part of their lives.”


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