China / Society

Stem-cell trials give new hope to heart patients

By Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-26 06:53

China's patients with chronic heart failure - a serious and common condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood - will soon have access to the stem-cell-based therapy C-Cure.

Eight to 10 trial sites are expected to be set up at renowned public medical institutions in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, in addition to others around the world, to test the safety and effectiveness of the therapy.

"Participating in the trial will enhance the stem-cell research capacity of China, which remains uncompetitive worldwide," said Zhou Yujie, vice-president of Beijing Anzhen hospital.

It is the first stem-cell therapy for cardiology to enter Phase 3 of a clinical trial in China, he noted.

Chronic heart failure affects about 117 million people worldwide, including nearly 30 million in China, according to the World Health Organization and China's National Health and Family Planning Commission.

Current treatments mainly work to slow down progression of the disease, but with the exception of heart transplants they cannot cure the disease, said professor Gu Hong of Anzhen hospital.

"C-Cure is a revolutionary stem-cell treatment for heart failure. If it passes the Phase 3 clinical trial, it will enter the market to save the patients," she said.

The therapy reprograms the patient's own stem cells into new heart cells to rebuild the heart, according to Atta Behfar, director of cardiovascular regeneration at Mayo Clinic in the US.

He has played an active part in developing the technology that directs the patient's cells to become heart cells. Mayo Clinic was also involved in previous clinical trials of C-Cure in the United States.

"Stem-cell therapy aims to teach the human body to heal itself and we're moving gradually from promise to reality," he said.

Xu Guotong, head of the medicine department of Tongji Medical University in Shanghai, agreed but pointed out that China still lags far behind the US.

"The problem lies in a lack of government regulations and policies," he acknowledged.

Between a drug and a therapy, stem-cell treatment needs to be clearly defined by the health and drug authorities in China, he said.

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