December 3, 2023

Controversy over cardiac stem cells could sink “heart failure cure”

A “tidal wave” of scepticism about the potential of cardiac stem cells.

More controversy over the therapeutic potential of stem cells. This week Nature published a study which was highly sceptical of using cardiac stem cells to regenerate heart tissue. Only two years ago, this experimental treatment was heralded as a revolutionary breakthrough and as a “heart failure cure” in the media after a paper by a group led by Dr Piero Anvera was published to great fanfare in The Lancet.

However, the technique’s reputation has declined steeply. “There’s been a tidal wave in the last few weeks of rising skepticism,” says Eduardo Marban, director of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and an author of the paper in Nature.

In April the journal Circulation retracted a 2012 paper by Dr Anvera because of compromised data. A couple of days later, The Lancet issued “an expression of concern” about its much-cited paper. Its lead author was also Dr Anversa.  

“This notice of concern, coupled with the recent retraction, is extremely troubling because of the large number of clinical trials inspired by reports from this group, the many desperate patients potentially affected, and the large amount of federal and private money that has been diverted from other areas of promising research to pursue these ideas,” Professor Jonathan Epstein, of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, told the Boston Globe.

Because a clinical trial using cardiac stem cells is currently under way, some researchers want to stop the trial. Others insist that they should press ahead.  

Michael Cook
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