After suffering two heart attacks and undergoing two surgeries, Bob Chirico does what he can to keep his heart strong - making it a point to exercise every day.

"I get about four miles on the bike. And I get off the bike and I don't really have any problems. I have no angina, no shortness of breath," says Bob.

But for Bob and millions of people who survive heart attacks, the damage is already done. Once you lose heart muscle, it's gone for good. But scientists at Ohio State University Medical Center are working to change that.

In lab tests, they're injecting stem cells from adult bone marrow into areas of the heart that have lost blood supply, to try and get the heart to heal itself.

"And these stem cells, when there is injury to the heart, will go to that area of the heart - or to a limb, or any areas with inadequate blood supply - and promote or stimulate your body to grow its own new blood vessels," says Vincent Pompili, MD of Ohio State.

But in damage areas of the heart, normal stem cells don't stand much of a chance. In fact, 96% of them die within four days.* They just don't get enough oxygen.

So scientists at Ohio State are taking another approach. They're now bathing stem cells in drugs that train them how to survive in tissue with less oxygen.

"And we found there was a phenomenal benefit in doing the pre-condition, or pre-training the cells," says Periannan Kuppusamy, PhD of Ohio State.

It has worked well enough that doctors will soon begin injecting the pre-trained stem cells into heart attack patients as they arrive at the hospital.

And the best part is they've found a way to give the cells through an IV - so doctors don't have to inject them directly into the heart.

Scientists are getting these stem cells from adult bone marrow - and say they are adapting well in heart tissue.

A typical injection will contain around 200-million cells - in the hopes that at least some will survive and begin to grow new blood vessels in the damaged heart.

*Pharmacological Preconditioning of Mesenchymal Stem Cells with Trimetazidine (1-[2,3,4-Trimethoxybenzyl]piperazine) Protects Hypoxic Cells against Oxidative Stress and Enhances Recovery of Myocardial Function in Infarcted Heart through Bcl-2 Expression, The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Vol. 329, No. 2, July 2009.

Ohio State University Medical Center

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