"[These webpages] give a clear explanation on how the polymerase chain reaction works and why it is useful."
In America in 2003, a bizarre accident happened. Dimitri Bonnville, a 16 year-old boy, was shot in the heart with a nail gun. He then suffered a massive heart attack which destroyed large areas of heart muscle and meant that his heart could no longer pump blood effectively – it was only pumping 25% of the blood out of his heart with each beat instead of the normal 55-65%. His only hope for long term survival was a heart transplant – and no heart was immediately available.
The hospital was about to start a programme of research looking at the possibilities of using adult stem cells to help repair damaged hearts – so they rushed through a special treatment regime just for Dimitri. He is the first patient in the world to undergo an experimental adult stem cell treatment to help repair the damaged tissue.
Doctors gave Dimitri drugs to stimulate the production of stem cells in his blood. They then harvested the stem cells and transplanted them directly into his coronary artery which carried them to his damaged heart muscle. Within a very short time the capacity of the heart increased to 35 percent with each beat – enough to allow Dimitri to return home and begin to live a more normal life. What is more, because Dimitri received his own cells, there are no problems of rejection.
Interestingly this ground-breaking case becomes hard to follow up. It seems Dimitri's recovery was not as good as expected and his family eventually sued the hospital for the way he was treated.
However the use of stem cells to improve heart function after heart attacks, and when patients are suffering from heart failure, has continued in many countries including the UK. The results are very promising, with most studies showing that stem cells can be used to repair damaged hearts and improve the way they function. Even if we never manage to grow an entirely new heart, adult stem cells may hold out rejection-free hope to heart patients in the not-too-distant future.