CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A new era in heart therapy research is beginning at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Researchers announced details of a $1.5 million dollar gr ant Monday to develop heart therapy for heart failure patients.
The condition affects roughly 5.7 million Americans every day in the United States, said lead researcher Dr. Ying Mei, Ph.D.
The research is a collaborative effort between MUSC, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, with multiple lab locations.
The gr ant, which was awarded in August, will allow researchers to experiment with stem cells to find a solution to deal with this chronic condition.
Patients who have heart failure can't pump enough blood through their heart and into the body as it normally should.
According to the Mayo Clinic, coronary artery disease is the most common cause of heart failure.
Doctors like Mei are using stem cell research to see if an injection can help create new cells within the heart.
"We're getting more and more efficient in terms of this process so we can make enough of those cells," Mei said. "People have been trying to see whether we can put those cells into the heart, and have been spending a lot of time and money to see whether we can treat the damaged heart."
The heart can't repair itself after damage, whereas a bone can, Mei added.
By implementing new stem cells into the heart, the hope is to rejuvenate and repair the damage left behind, but Mei said it's not that easy.
"We don't want the new cells to be pumped out of the heart immediately," he said. "That would defeat the purpose."
While the final solution is still in the works, Mei said he would ideally like patients to get an injection to correct the situation, which may also require surgery.
"The ultimate goal from my own research is one single shot," he said. "Any cell therapy can be very expensive. So I think, open chest surgery, and minimizing the pain to the patient."
Mei added they are currently testing the concept on rats.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it costs the nation $30.7 billion in managing heart failure.
Researchers with Clemson University state about half of the people who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.