Global technology on a personal level
Using a GPS-like tool to map the heart
It’s the question of both country crooners and inquisitive cardiologists: How do you mend a broken heart? A trial now under way at Rush University Medical Center might hold the answer — at least for hearts that are literally broken.
The trial uses highly sophisticated medical technology to evaluate a novel treatment for myocardial ischemia, a serious heart condition in which narrowed coronary arteries limit blood flow to the heart, causing considerable discomfort.
Specifically, researchers are investigating whether autologous stem cells — cells obtained from a patient’s own body that can mature into other types of tissue — can restore blood flow to the heart in people who have exhausted other treatment options.
“The objective is to help patients feel better with less chest pain,” says study investigator Gary Schaer, MD, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Rush.
A twist on GPS
Healing the heart begins by creating a detailed map of the organ with technology similar to that behind global positioning systems (GPS).
These systems work by measuring how long it takes radio signals from orbiting satellites to reach a receiver on earth. By using those time measurements to calculate the distance to several different satellites, a GPS system can determine a receiver’s precise location.
In this trial, the same principle is involved. Instead of satellites and receivers, doctors use catheters with electromagnetic sensors and a device placed underneath each participant as he or she lies on a table in the catheterization lab. The sensors provide a catheter’s real-time location as it is threaded through the heart.
During the catheter’s journey, equipment simultaneously records the heart’s electrical activity and the catheter’s location. A mapping system then uses this information to construct a three-dimensional, color map of the heart that shows exactly where blood flow and oxygen are lacking. It’s a space-age approach to an age-old dilemma.
Guided by the map
Once areas in need of treatment are identified, researchers thread an investigational catheter to the heart to inject stem cells into the specific locations with poor blood flow. These cells are obtained from each participant’s own bone marrow.
Researchers hope that the cells will grow new blood vessels that nourish the heart and reduce ischemia symptoms. It’s among the most promising therapies for people who thought they had nothing left to try, according to Schaer. If the trial is successful, the rhythm of a healthier heart will be beautiful music to everyone involved.
For more information about the GPS heart trial, contact study coordinator Catherine Glase at (312) 942-8901.