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Research with heart: Work of BU profs makes possible cardiac muscle regeneration trials

Clinical trials of a ground-breaking procedure that could allow ailing heart patients to regenerate healthy heart muscle are being made possible because of the research of two Binghamton University professors.

The American Heart Association estimates that coronary heart disease kills one person each minute in the United States alone.

The innovative non-surgical process—human cellular cardiomyoplasty—is in early clinical trials in Europe. It involves the injection of adult stem cells, harvested and separated out of tissue collected from a patient’s thigh, back into the patient’s diseased heart. The stem cells are re-injected into the patient by means of a catheter introduced through the groin. Once they reach the heart, the stem cells become heart cells and increase the beating efficiency of the heart.

The procedure would be impossible without preservation solutions developed by research teams headed up by Binghamton professors of biological sciences John Baust and Robert Van Buskirk. Baust and VanBuskirk are the principles in BioLife Solutions, Inc. Their company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cryomedical Sciences, Inc., is one of the first companies to be incubated by the University. Baust, who is also director of the University’s Institute of Biomedical Technology, and VanBuskirk, who is director of the University’s Advanced Biotechnologies Center, have developed a family of solutions that prolong the life of cells and tissues for transplant.

Their HypoThermosol preservation solutions make it possible to transport live skeletal muscle tissues needed for this procedure from almost anywhere in the world to a specialized facility in Belgium. There the solutions are again used to keep the tissues alive while the stem cells are separated out, grown and sent back several weeks later for injection into the patient.

“Our solution was also used as the injectate or carrier solution injected directly to the diseased heart tissue,” Van Buskirk said.

In a first successful clinical trial earlier this summer in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 25 million stem cells were injected back into a patient’s heart during a 30-minute autologous procedure. The procedure, which is termed autologous because it involves the reintroduction of the patient’s own cells, is being tested again this month in Germany.

Adult stem cells are capable of dividing into indefinitely more cells of the same type and can also produce certain other kinds of cells through a process known as cell differentiation. Earlier studies by BioHeart, Inc. suggested that when injected into a damaged heart, stem cells extracted from a patient’s thigh muscle will develop into healthy heart muscle. BioHeart, which specializes in stem cell research, oversaw the processing of the healthy cells at the facility in Belgium using proprietary techniques.

Vice President for Research Frances E. Carr said the clinical trials are just one example of many new technologies being developed or supported by Binghamton University researchers.

Baust and VanBuskirk’s solutions promise to extend the window for organ transplantation, accelerate the growth of the tissue-engineering field, improve patient outcome following heart surgery and, in the future, reduce mortality associated with trauma, Van Buskirk said.

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