Intravenous Preconditioned Mesenchymal Stem Cells from Donors Improve the Heart Function of Heart Failure Patients

CardioCell is a global biotechnology company that was founded in 2013 in San Diego, California. CardioCell specializes in ischemia-tolerant mesenchymal stem cells (itMSCs). These stem cells are derived from bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stems extracted from healthy donors. However, after isolation, these cells are grown in low-oxygen conditions, which induces the expression of genes that allow cells to adapt to stressful, oxygen-poor conditions.

Non-ischemic dilated cardiomyopathy (NIDCM) is a progressive disorder with no current cure, often culminating in heart transplantation. Because the heart has enlarged, there are areas where the blood supply of the heart fails to properly provide oxygen to the tissues. Without proper muscular support, the walls of the heart begin to thin and the blood supply becomes less and less adequate to the task of feeding the heart muscle. Also, the heart of a patient experiencing chronic heart failure also seems to have some low-level of inflammation that slowly damage the heart (Circ Res. 2016;119(1):159-76). Stem cell treatments might help ameliorate the physiological quandary in which the heart finds itself, but these oxygen-poor areas of the heart are inimical to stem cell survival and flourishing. Therefore, itMSCs stand a better chance of surviving when implanted into a damaged heart than non-conditioned stem cells. Experiments in laboratory animals have confirmed that itMSCs show a greater ability to seek out and find the damaged heart and engraft into the heart at higher rates than MSCs grown under normal culture conditions (see PLoS One. 2015 Sep 18;10(9):e0138477; Stem Cells. 2015 Jun;33(6):1818-28). These itMSCs also secrete higher levels of growth factors and angiogenic factors than normal MSCs. On the strength of these laboratory and animal-based studies itMSCs are now in the process of being tested as a treatment for heart attack patients.

CardioCell has sponsored a single-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover, randomized phase II-a trial of patients with NIDCM who have an ejection below 40% (the ejection fraction refers to the average percentage of blood pumped from the left ventricle at each contraction. The average ejection from for a healthy individual is about 65% or so).  The results of this study were published in the journal Circulation Research (;

Patients who volunteered for this study were randomly assigned to group I or group II. Group I patients received intravenous infusions of one and a half-million itMSCs per kilogram body weight. Group II received the placebo. There were 22 patients in all, and 10 received the itMSCs and 10 received the placebo. Since this was a crossover trial, after 90 days, patients in group I received he placebo and group II received the intravenous itMSCs. After crossover, safety and efficacy data were available for all 22 itMSC patients.

With respect to safety issues, there were no major differences in the number of deaths, hospitalizations, or serious adverse events between the two treatments. With respect the efficacy, the data is but more difficult to analyze. In the first place, when it comes to changes in the ejection fraction of the left ventricle from the originally measured baseline, there were no statistically significant changes between the two treatments. The same could be said for the volume of the left ventricle. This is an unfortunately finding, since heart failure includes a decrease in the ejection fraction of the heart and stretching and dilation of the ventricles. Stem cell treatments, if they are to properly treat heart failure, should increase the ejection fraction of the heart and reduce the dilation of the left ventricle. However, there might be more to these data than originally meets the eye. When it came to patient performance, the data was much more hopeful. Compared to patients who received the placebo, patients who received the itMSCs significantly increased the distance they were able to walk during 6-minutes. Patients who had received the itMSCs walked an average of 36.47 longer meters than patients who had received the placebo. Additionally, patients were also given a commonly-used survey, called the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy clinical summary. This survey is a 23-item, self-administered instrument that quantifies physical function, symptoms (frequency, severity and recent change), social function, self-efficacy and knowledge, and quality of life. Administration of this survey to both sets of patients revealed that patients who had received the itMSCs consistently and statistically significantly scored higher on this survey than those patients who received the placebo. The same was also demonstrated for particular functional status tests. Therefore, when it came to how well patients felt and well they functioned, itMSC treatments seemed to excel significantly better than placebo.

Given the ability of MSCs to suppress inflammation, and given the tendency for patients with heart failure to suffer from chronic inflammation of the heart, individual patients were measured for their degree of inflammation. There was an inverse relationship between the degree of inflammation in a patient and their ejection fraction; the lower their level of inflammation, the higher their ejection fraction.

Thus this study seems to suggest that treatment of heart failure with itMSCs is indeed safe. These treatments also did reduce inflammation in heart failure patients and these reductions in inflammation were also associated with improvements in health status and functional capacity.


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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).