A potentially deadly form of cardiovascular disease affecting the coronary arteries is currently being treated with stem cells in animal models. Coronary arteries carry blood to the cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells, and if they become blocked or otherwise damaged, the cardiomyocytes die from lack of oxygen. In serious cases, this can lead to a massive heart attack and death of the patient. In milder cases, damage to the heart is minimal, but coronary circulation is insufficient to allow the patient a normal lifestyle. Stem cells, stimulated to differentiate into cardiomyocytes, could be injected directly into the heart muscle in order to repair the damage. The stem cell transplants may be augmented with gene therapy by introducing a gene directly into the heart that codes for a blood vessel growth factor that stimulates the growth and repair of the coronary arteries, in order to reestablish an adequate blood flow. Stem cell therapy to treat cardiovascular disease is still in a preclinical stage of development.
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