Addressing the heart failure epidemic: from mechanical circulatory support to stem cell therapy
Donato, Britton B.
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At an annual cost of over thirty billion dollars annually, the diagnosis and management of heart failure is one of the most significant public health concerns of the twenty first century, as nearly twenty percent of Americans will develop some form of heart failure in their lifetime. The incidence of newly diagnosed heart failure has remained stable over the last several years at approximately 650,000 diagnoses per year; however, due to several contributing factors the prevalence has continued to rise despite substantial advancements in interventional therapies. The three most significant contributing factors to the rising heart failure prevalence have been identified as 1) significant advancements in technology and medical intervention have dramatically improved the survival rate of those experiencing acute coronary events. This has resulted in a greater number of patients who then progress to chronic heart failure. 2) The management of those with chronic heart failure has been dramatically improved which has allowed those with the disease to live longer and 3) heart failure is in large part a disease associated with advancing age. As the population in the United States and other developed countries continue to grow, such a strong association will inevitably result in a rapidly increasing prevalence. Current clinically therapies for managing heart failure can be categorized into three major groups: pharmaceutical therapy, mechanical circulatory support, or cell-based therapy. Pharmaceutical therapies are used in the earlier stages of disease progression or to manage symptoms and comorbidities of later stage heart failure. Mechanical circulatory support is often implemented when the disease progresses to a more severe state, where volume and / or pressure overload of the ventricles is present. Many modalities of mechanical circulatory support serve as a bridge to transplant, as the only long-term treatment of advanced decompensated heart failure is cardiac transplantation. The third category of treatments for HF is cell-based or stem cell therapies. These therapies are still in their infancies but hold significant potential of cardiac regeneration and reversal of the pathologic remodeling associated with heart failure. While the management of the early stages of heart failure have improves, addressing end-stage failure remains a significant obstacle in resolving the U.S. of the heart failure epidemic. The use of ventricular assist devices (VADs) has improved the management of end-stage failure over the last few decades, but VADs serve mostly as a bridge to transplant, so eventually a donor organ and cardiac transplantation is required. As the population continues to grow, the number of patients in need of a donor heart will increase, leading to an even larger discrepancy between the number of donor organs available and those in severe need. While advancements in VAD technology have reduced potential complications and increased the duration and effectiveness of the mechanical circulatory support, a long-term permanent treatment is still very much in need. Cell-based cardiac therapy or cardiac stem cell therapy holds the greatest potential to solving this age-old problem. The ability to not only regenerate dead or damaged tissue in the heart but also reverse pathologic remodeling due to heart failure could cure millions of patients of heart failure, returning them to a healthy, fully functioning state. The last decade has shed much light on the potential of stem cell therapies, but also has illuminated significant barriers to creating a clinically acceptable treatment. While these barriers seem tall, it is crucial that much time and resources be invested into stem cell therapies for cardiac applications as they hold the greatest potential to being able to effectively treat, rather than manage, those with heart failure. In addition to regenerating dead of damaged myocardium, stem cell technology has the potential to grow an entire organ that is patient specific in its origin, and would fully alleviate having to wait for an available donor organ. The ability to grow an entire organ in the lab, which can later be transplanted, would forever change the way medicine is practiced, while saving millions if not billions of lives worldwide.