Rejuvenating The Heart

This year more than 1 million Americans will have a heart attack or be diagnosed with fatal heart disease. Even those who survive heart attacks face a risk of permanently damaged hearts because the heart cells damaged in the attack may never come back. Now, doctors hope cells from other parts of the body will prevent future trouble.

To look at him shopping, you'd never know Edward Cooper made medical history. Cooper had four heart attacks. Hoping to prevent a fifth, he became the first patient in the United States to undergo an experimental procedure.

"They seemed to be surprised that I did so well, because I was up and walking very quickly after the procedure," he says.

Cooper had a traditional bypass operation. Then doctors did something unusual — they took cells from Cooper’s arm, multiplied them in the lab, and transplanted them into the area of his heart damaged by the heart attack.

UCLA cardiologist Robb MacLellan, M.D., says, "Probably more than any therapy that's come through the pipeline for heart failure in the last 10 years, this has generated the most excitement."

Six months after the procedure, doctors say the results are apparent.

UCLA cardiologist Gregg Fonarow, M.D., says, "In an area where we previously saw no motion, we are now seeing some improvement in how well the heart muscle is squeezing."

Cooper says even being the first to have the procedure done; the decision to have it was easy. "I would much rather have my own heart if I can, than someone else’s," he says.

Doctors stress they cannot be sure whether it was the cell transplant or the bypass surgery that improved Cooper's condition. The next round of trials will be conducted on patients who don't need the bypass surgery.