Heart Function Improved by Injecting Discarded Surgery Fat

Many patients with heart problems – such as heart disease or angina – may need to undergo cardiac surgery in order to restore or improve blood flow. But a new study suggests that the procedure may offer so much more; stem cells in fat discarded during cardiac surgery could be injected back into the patient’s heart to further improve its function.

A research team led by senior author Canadian cardiologist Dr. Ganghong Tian will present their findings at the Frontiers in Cardiovascular Biology meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

Previous work by this group has shown that subcutaneous fat (adipose tissue) contains stem cells that can reduce the severity of heart attacks, improve cardiac function, and augment blood vessel regeneration in laboratory animals with experimentally induced heart attacks. These fat-based stem cells can be easily obtained through liposuction. However, Tian noted, “But obtaining these from a patient undergoing cardiac surgery requires pre-surgery to collect adipose tissue from the subcutaneous region.”

Is there a better way? According to Tian, during cardiac surgery, the surgeon often removes fat tissue that resides around the heart (so-called mediastinal fat) in order to properly expose the heart. Tian wondered if this fat contain stem cells that could be re-introduced to the heart to improve its function after heart surgery

In order to test this hypothesis, Tian and others collected mediastinal fat tissue from 24 patients who had undergone cardiac surgery. Then Tian’s group injected rats with mediastinal fat stem cells. The rats injected with stem cells from mediastinal fat showed greater ventricular movement in their hearts and no reduction in left ventricular ejection fraction.

Closer examination of the stem cells from mediastinal fat showed that mediastinal fat housed a rather robust number of stem cells, and that these stem cells could differentiate into fat and bone cells. Also, these stem cells expressed genes that are often found in heart muscle cells.

With this pre-clinical information in hand, Tian and others examined the use of mediastinal fat-based stem cells in 13 rats with congestive heart failure. These stem cells were directly injected into the hearts of eight rats, and five were injected with a saline solution.

After 6 weeks, all the rats underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). When the five control rats were compared with those who those rats that received injections of mediastinal fat-based stem cells, the stem cell-injected rats demonstrated greater ventricular movement in their hearts and no reduction in left ventricular ejection fraction (ejection fraction measures how much blood is being pumped out of the left ventricle of the heart).

Commenting on the team’s findings, Dr. Tian says: “This is the first evidence that stem cells collected from the mediastinal fat region are cardioprotective. They displayed the same cardioprotective capacity we found in our previous research on stem cells from subcutaneous fat tissue. This raises the exciting possibility of using a patient’s own stem cells, isolated from waste tissue during cardiac surgery, to improve their heart function.”

Tian noted that there are currently some issues with this procedure that need to be addressed with further research. Techniques must be developed to quickly isolate stem cells from mediastinal fat so they can be injected back into a patient’s heart during cardiac surgery. Tian said, “It currently takes several hours to purify the cells and we are looking for collaborators to help us devise a more efficient method.”

Tina and others would also like to examine the ability of these stem cells to improve cardiac function long-term, beyond the 6 weeks monitored in this study. Furthermore, Tian and his group would like to induce the stem cells into functional heart muscle cells that display electrical pulses and beating.

STAP Papers Retracted

The two papers that appeared in the journal Nature that described the derivation of embryonic stem cell-like cells simply by exposing cells to environmental stresses have been formally retracted. In a notice of retraction from the Riken Center’s Haruko Obokata, who was the lead author of these papers, and her colleagues said that “[s]everal critical errors have been found in our Article and Letter.” The notice also pointed out that a subsequent investigation of those errors by an internal Riken Center investigation found evidence of research misconduct.

“The STAP technology, indeed, sounded too good to be true,” said Dusko Ilic, from King’s College London, to the Reuters news group. “I hoped that Haruko Obokata would prove at the end all those naysayers wrong. Unfortunately, she did not.”

In an editorial that appeared in Nature, Ivan Oransky from a blog site known as Retraction Watch, argue that it couldn’t have caught the errors. Oransky wrote: We at Nature have examined the reports about the two papers from our referees and our own editorial records,” the editorial notes. “Before publishing, we had checked that the results had been independently replicated in the laboratories of the co-authors.” Nevertheless, the journal says this incident has highlighted flaws in the peer-review publishing process.

“We — research funders, research practitioners, institutions and journals — need to put quality assurance and laboratory professionalism ever higher on our agendas, to ensure that the money entrusted by governments is not squandered, and that citizens’ trust in science is not betrayed,” it adds.

The simple fact is that reviewers examine data, figures and materials and methods, but they have no gift of ESP to determine is the authors are telling the truth.  Truth-telling and honesty are virtues without which science cannot exist.  What is the basis of honesty and truth-telling?  Well, the secular, pragmatic worldview would suggest that truth-telling works and without it we cannot do science without it.  However, if truth-telling gets the individual scientist ahead for a time, then why shouldn’t they prevaricate?  What should the individual worry about what the collective thinks or needs?

It is at this point that I must interject that the Christian worldview provides the foundation for honesty and truth-telling.  The Christian tells the truth because God is the author of all truth and is by His very nature, the truth (see John 14:6).  To not tell the truth is to dishonor God and not live in accordance with his revealed prescriptions.  Therefore, the Christian worldview explains why we should tell the truth when reporting our experiments.