Stem cells may heal hearts

The most dangerous heart attack is known as a STEMI.

It is when the artery in the heart completely blocks blood flow. Every minute counts when it comes to surviving a STEMI.

Now, a patient's own stem cells could hold the key to recovery.

Branko Koscak is making healthier choices after suffering a massive heart attack. Working 18 hours a day finally caught up with him.

Branko Koscak says, “Just running all the, all day, pretty much day and night."

Doctor Gary Schaer, a cardiologist from Rush University Medical Center, says the damage done by Branko's nearly 100 percent blocked artery was life threatening.

Dr. Schaer says, "This whole area of the heart muscle has been severely injured by this heart attack."

He is testing a new technique using a patient's own stem cells.

Dr. Schaer says, "This is the most exciting area of medicine that I’ve been involved in, in my 30 years or so of practice."

A week after Branko's heart attack, a catheter was placed into his previously blocked artery and stem cells from his bone marrow were infused.

Preliminary evidence shows it takes somewhere between three and six months for maximum benefit. Branko is taking it day by day.

Branko Koscak "I consider myself fortunate I got a wakeup call."

That call has already changed his eating habits, his work life, and his heart for the better.

The phase two-preserve trial completed enrollment in December.

If the trial demonstrates that cell therapy results in benefits compared to placebo, it will more than likely move on to a larger phase three trial.


REPORT: MB # 3732

BACKGROUND: There are a variety of types of heart attacks, but the most serious kind is known as a STEMI. The acronym stands for ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction; ST-segment elevation refers to the pattern that would show up on a patient's electrocardiogram. A STEMI occurs when a coronary artery is totally blocked. When a patient has a STEMI heart attack, it requires immediate action in the form of revascularization, which means unclogging the artery and getting the heart pumping normally. There are two ways of achieving revascularization; one is by using clot-busting drugs, and the other is with angioplasty. It's estimated nearly 250,000 people have STEMI heart attacks a year. (Source:
CAUSES: Like other kinds of heart attacks, STEMI heart attacks don't have one singular cause, but rather a variety of involved factors. Some of them include:
* High blood pressure
* High cholesterol
* Genetic factors
* Unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle
* Age, especially those between age 40 and 55 (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Doctors at Rush University Medical Center are now researching how stem cells can help the heart regain its strength. Using a small catheter, doctors inject bone marrow stem cells into the heart. It was believed only embryonic stem cells had the ability to turn into any cells, but adult bone marrow stem cells have shown the ability to do just that. The stem cells essentially strengthen the parts of the heart damaged by the heart attack. Results from the Phase 1 trial showed patients who received the stem cells had better heart function and fewer arrhythmias at six months than untreated patients. The Phase 2 trial recently completed enrollment and is underway. (Source:

Deborah Song
Associate Director, Media Relations
Rush University Medical Center
(312) 942-0588

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