June 2, 2020

Heart Health

Growing New Cells

Will gene and cell transplant therapies improve the quality of life for heart patients?

Diane Sears | 2/1/2006

Targeting circulation: Researchers studying gene therapy inject genetic material into the heart to stimulate growth of healthy blood vessels.
About 1.2 million Americans are expected to have heart attacks this year. Two clinical trials at the University of Florida's Shands Jacksonville Medical Center offer new hope for heart patients who've tried every option short of a transplant. In a study on gene therapy, researchers are injecting a drug into heart cells to stimulate growth of healthy blood vessels. A study on cell transplant therapy involves a similar technique, but instead of medication, researchers inject cells from the patient's bone marrow.

Dr. Marco A. Costa, UF's director of both cardiology research and the Cardiovascular Imaging Core Laboratories at Shands, compares the techniques to stem cell research but says they're not as controversial because they don't involve fetal tissue.

Shands Jacksonville is one of about 35 research facilities nationwide testing gene therapy and one of only two chosen to study cell transplant therapy. Both trials are expected to wrap up in the next two years, and the results look positive, Costa says. Patients are seeing improvement in their walking capacity.

"That's the idea," Costa says, "to improve quality of life and take the patients from that level of being at home, confined because they have symptoms, to providing them with a lifestyle so they can go shopping, go to the beach, walk the dog."

The average age for a heart attack is 65.8 for men and 70.4 for women. Proactive patients should start asking their doctors about heart scans that go beyond today's 64-slice images.

This spring, Costa and his team of 20 faculty members and 16 fellows will start working with cutting-edge technology from Munich, Germany; Shands Jacksonville is one of a few facilities working with 3-D images taken from inside the arteries.

Shands Jacksonville researchers also are trying to understand why diabetic patients suffer more strokes, heart attacks and blood clots. They're tossing out the current "one size fits all" theory in treating blood flow and studying whether diabetics might need more than one aspirin a day.

"I'm a cardiologist, but I look at diabetes as my main problem," Costa says. "Diabetes is a consequence early in the process of heart disease. A heart attack is the end result.

Hidden Arterial Disease

Healthcare professionals have new guidelines to help them determine whether patients might be suffering from unsuspected symptoms of peripheral arterial disease, which the medical community calls an "alarmingly common condition" that affects 12 million Americans. The disease blocks the flow of blood from the heart to the legs, feet, kidneys and intestines. The guidelines focus on early detection and call for doctors to ask recommended questions to uncover hidden symptoms and to recommend tests and lifestyle changes.

On the web: americanheart.org

Warning Signs Of a Heart Attack

› Chest Discomfort.
Pain, fullness, pressure or squeezing in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.

› Upper Body Symptoms.
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or in the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

› Shortness of Breath.
With or without chest discomfort.

› Other Signs.
Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Women are more likely to experience nausea and/or vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Sources: American Heart Association


  • 71.3 million - Number of adults in U.S. with cardiovascular disease, including 27.4 million ages 65+
    Source: American Heart Association
  • 37.3% - Deaths in the United States caused by cardiovascular disease in 2003, or one in every 2.7
    Source: American Heart Association
  • 46,839 - Number of heart disease deaths in Florida in 2004
    Source: Florida Department of Health

Tags: North Central, Healthcare

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