The Impact of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) – in all of its forms – is the number one killer in the UK, Europe and the US. More often than not, it has long-term effects, including an enlarged, damaged and less efficient heart muscle which naturally leads to other disabilities and a notably decreased quality of life.
While the affected person certainly bears the burden of such diseases, society as a whole does as well. In a 2006 study, researchers found that CVD cost the UK economy £29.1 billion in 2004, with healthcare costs accounting for 60% of the total. This number is even higher in the US, with healthcare costs associated with CVD just under $300 billion per year.
Current Methods for Treating Cardiovascular Disease
It’s worth mentioning that CVD encompasses all diseases and conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels. Here, we’ll focus on coronary heart disease, which often results in heart attacks and heart failure.
Coronary Heart Disease
According to the NHS, patients suffering from coronary heart disease can be prescribed a combination of medications that help to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol or widen the arteries or blood vessels. Unfortunately, many medications have negative side effects and, given that they must be taken long-term, can be costly. Blocked arteries could require interventional procedures, including bypass grafts, angioplasty and even transplants. Success rates depend on numerous factors, including age and lifestyle and, in the case of transplants, there’s understandably a higher demand than there is supply.
What About Prevention?
Currently, prevention of CVD is directed at lifestyle changes. The Mayo Clinic recommends a healthy diet, exercise and stress management for heart health. Of course, their number one recommendation is to stop smoking. But what about medical prevention? It’s clear that there’s a need for preventative methods that will limit ischemic injury and regenerate tissue that’s been damaged before the patient suffers a heart attack, heart failure, or another life-threatening condition.
Regenerative Medicine and the Future of Treatment
Scientists around the world are working tirelessly to turn research into effective treatments and, in the past decade, we’ve witnessed a surge of scientific enthusiasm for regenerative medicine. And it’s well and truly a group effort as it requires scientists and clinicians with different expertise, from cardiology to cell biology to engineering.
California’s Stem Cell Agency have awarded over $202 million to researchers looking into heart disease, in particular how to create stem cells that can replace the damaged heart muscle and restore the heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood around the body. Other researchers are focusing more on tissue engineering technologies by building artificial scaffolds in the lab, loading them with stem cells and placing them in the heart with the goal of stimulating the recovery of the muscle.
In terms of prevention, Cardiology News reported Dr. Andre Terzic of The Mayo Clinic believes that regenerative medicine will protect against chronic disease and help match healthspan with life span in aging patients.
Of course, Celixir is developing its own life-saving therapies. Heartcel, an immunomodulatory progenitor (iMP) cell therapy for the treatment of adult heart failure, has been approved for clinical trials in both the UK and the US. EU Phase II trials were completed back in 2016 with overwhelmingly positive results. Most notably, 100% of patients were free from any major adverse cardiac event (MACE), 30% of patients experienced improved heart function and 50% of patients experienced improvements in their quality of life.
Over the next several years, we should see more and more regenerative therapies leaving the research pipeline to be used in clinical environments and, in time, we can hope that deaths and healthcare costs associated with CVD will decline thanks to new treatments.