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.

CardioCell LLC Clincal Trial Tests Ischemia-Resistant Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Heart Failure

The cell therapy company CardioCell LLC has completed enrolling 23 patients for its Phase 2a chronic heart failure trial. These subjects were enrolled at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington DC, and three other hospitals.

This study has the ponderous title of “Single-blind, Placebo-controlled, Crossover, Multicenter, Randomized Study to Assess the Safety, Tolerability and Preliminary Efficacy of Single Intravenous Dose of Ischemia-tolerant of Allogeneic Mesenchymal Bone Marrow Cells to Subjects With Heart Failure of Non-ischemic Etiology.”

This clinical trial will examine the safety of CardioCell’s proprietary ischemic-tolerant mesenchymal stem cells in heart failure patients. The trial will also test the ability of these cells to improve the heart function of these safe patients.

Ischemia-resistant mesenchymal stem cells have are extracted from bone marrow and then subjected to harsh cell culture conditions that toughen them up and improves their therapeutic capacities.

Cardiologist Javed Butler said that this clinical trial has been designed to use this novel intervention in a carefully selected group of patients who met rigorous inclusion and exclusion criteria.

This trial will deliver ischemia-tolerant mesenchymal stem cells (itMSCs) by means of intravenous infusion into heart failure patients and then monitor these patients to determine if the itMSC-treated patients show signs of improvement in heat function.

These itMSCs are licensed under the parent company Stemedica and these are allogeneic cells that were isolated from young, healthy donors and grown under hypoxic conditions. Once grown under these harsh culture conditions, the itMSCs increase their ability to home to damaged tissues and engraft into those tissues. itMSCs also secrete increased levels of growth and trophic factors that promote neurogenesis and tissue healing.

High-Dose Stem Cell Treatments in Chronic Heart Patients Increases Survival Rates

The DanCell clinical trial was conducted about seven years ago at the Odense University Hospital, Odense, Denmark by a clinical research team led by Axel Diederichsen. The DanCell study examined 32 patients with severe ischemic heart failure who had received two rounds of bone marrow stem cell treatments.

The DanCell study was small and uncontrolled. However, because the vast majority of stem cell-based clinical trials have examined the efficacy of stem cell treatments in patients who have recently experienced a heart attack, this study was one of the few that examined patients with chronic heart failure.

In this study, patients had an average ejection fraction of 33 ± 9%, which is in the cellar – normal ejection fractions in healthy patients are in the 50s-60s. Therefore, these are patients with distinctly “bad tickers.” All 32 patients received two repeated infusions (4 months apart) of their own bone marrow stem cells, but these stem cell infusions were quantitated to determine the number of “CD34+” cells and the number of “CD133+” cells. CD34 is a cell surface protein found on bone marrow hematopoietic stem cells, but it by no means exclusive to HSCs. CD133 is also a cell surface protein found, although not exclusively, on the surfaces of cells that form blood vessels and blood vessels cells as well.

Initially, patients showed no improvements in heart function after 12 months. However, when patients were classified according to those who received the most or the least number of CD34+ cells, a curious thing emerged: those who received more CD34+ cells had a better chance of surviving than those who received fewer CD34+ cells.

Is this a fluke? To determine if it was, Diederichsen and his colleagues followed these patients for 7 years after the bone marrow infusion. When Diederichsen and his colleague recorded the number of deaths and compared them with the number of CD34+ cells infused, the pattern once again held true. The CD34+ cell count and CD133+ cell count did not significantly correlate with survival, but the CD34+ cell count alone was significantly associated with survival. In the authors own words: “decreasing the injected CD34 cell count by 10[6] increases the mortality risk by 10%.”

The conclusions of this small and admittedly uncontrolled study: “patients might benefit from intracoronary stem cell injections in terms of long-term clinical outcome.”

Three things to consider: Patients with heart conditions have poorer quality bone marrow stem cell numbers. Therefore, allogeneic stem cells might be a better way to go with this patient group. Secondly, the Danish group used Lymphoprep to prepare their bone marrow stem cells, which has been used in other failed studies, and the stem cell quality was almost certainly an issue in these cases (see the heart chapter in my book The Stem Cell Epistles for more information). Therefore, independent tests of the bone marrow quality are probably necessary as well or a different isolation technique in general. Also, a controlled trial must be run in order to confirm the efficacy of bone marrow stem cell infusions for patients with chronic ischemic heart disease. Until them, all we can conclude is that intracoronary injections of a high number of CD34+ cells may have a beneficial effect on chronic ischemic heart failure in terms of long-term survival.

Fat-Based Stem Cells in the PRECISE Trial Stabilizes Exercise Performance in Chronic Heart Disease Patients

Cytori Therapeutics has announced the publication of safety and efficacy data from a 36-month European clinical trial of Cytori Cell Therapy in patients with chronic ischemic heart failure. Final data from the Company’s PRECISE trial, a 27-patient, prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, feasibility trial (Phase I/IIA), demonstrated statistically significant differences in cardiac functional capacity between treated and placebo groups.

Their research will appear in the upcoming issue of the American Heart Journal. Cytori Cell Therapy is a mixed population of adipose derived regenerative cells (ADRCs™) extracted from a patient’s own adipose tissue using Cytori’s proprietary Celution® System.

“The PRECISE trial is the first-in-man trial involving the myocardial injection of ADRCs for heart disease,” said Dr. Emerson Perin , Co-Principal Investigator of the trial. “By demonstrating a strong safety profile and suggesting that the use of ADRCs may preserve functional capacity, the data indicates that this therapy may have meaningful impacts on the lives of these very sick patients.”

This particular publication was co-authored by trial investigators Drs. Emerson C. Perin at Texas Heart Institute, Francisco Fernández-Avilés at Hospital Universitario Gregorio Marañón and others. This clinical trial shows that the procedure was safe, feasible and showed indications of a favorable benefit to the patients who received it. The study demonstrated that fat harvest through liposuction could be performed safely in cardiac patients. Exercise capacity as reflected by maximum oxygen consumption (MVO2) during treadmill testing, a reflection of cardiac functional capacity, was sustained in the ADRC treated group but declined in the placebo group at 6 and 18 months. Statistically significant differences were observed between the two groups.

“These results supported the design of the ongoing U.S. Phase II ATHENA trial that is evaluating a similar patient population,” said Steven Kesten , M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Cytori. “We are encouraged by the sustained effects in functional endpoints, particularly MVO2, which is a relevant clinical endpoint in heart disease, and is an aid in directing treatment options, such as assist devices or heart transplant. We look forward to reporting the initial six-month results from the ATHENA trial.”

Additionally, other data trends in this study suggest that ADRC therapy may have a modest beneficial effect in stabilization of the heart scar tissue. To understand the meaning of this benefit, remember that ischemic heart disease might also be known as coronary artery disease (CAD), atherosclerotic heart disease, or coronary heart disease. Ischemic Heart Disease is the most common type of heart disease and cause of heart attacks. This disease is typically caused by plaque build up along the inner walls of the arteries of the heart, which leads to narrowing of the arteries and reduction of blood flow to the heart. After a heart attack, the region of the heart that was deprived of oxygen for a period time dies and the dead heart muscle tissue is replaced by scar tissue that contracts over time, but does not contract or conduct heartbeat impulses. In this study, the scar mass of the left ventricle remained consistent in ADRC-treated patients at six months compared to an increase in control patients. This suggests that ADRCs may prevent scar tissue from increasing. Other endpoints such as ventricular volumes and ejection fraction showed inconsistent findings.

In the PRECISE trial, all patients were treated with standard-of-care and subsequently underwent a liposuction procedure. Each patient’s adipose tissue was processed using Cytori’s proprietary Celution® System to prepare the cell therapy. Cells (n=21) or placebo (n=6) were injected into areas of the heart muscle that were severely damaged but still viable and reversible using the NOGA XP System.

Cytori is currently enrolling patients in the U.S. ATHENA and ATHENA II trials, both 45 patient prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials investigating a lower and a higher dose, respectively, of Cytori Cell Therapy in a similar patient population as PRECISE.

The PRECISE study is a small study, but the fact that it was double-blinded and placebo controlled makes it an important study. The experimental group showed a clear stabilization of maximum oxygen consumption as opposed to the control group, whose exercise tolerance decreased during the course of the trial. This is potentially significant.  The ADRCs could be preventing the heart from enlarging as a result of working harder.

Questions, however, remain.  For example, is this a short-term effect or does it maintain its effect over the long-term period? To answer that, patient follow-up is necessary. Second, the other physiological parameters showed confusing outcomes (ejection fraction, end-diastolic volume, and so on).  If the ADRCs are truly helping the heart function better, then why don’t the physiological parameters used to measure heart function show some semblance of improvement?  The stabilization of the maximum oxygen consumption stabilization might not mean much in retrospect if it is short-term.

A larger trial like the ATHENA study will be more powerful. Hopefully these PRECISE patients will be followed and examined several years after the treatment to determine the duration of the ADR-provided benefits.