Could stem cell therapy replace heart transplants?

A leading heart surgeon claims that heart transplants will be obsolete within 10 years, due to advancements in stem cell therapy and artificial pumps.

Since the first heart transplant was performed 50 years ago, the demand for this service has increased dramatically. In fact, British Heart Foundation figures show that the number of heart transplant patients has gone up 162% in just 10 years! In 2017, there are 249 people on the waiting list but only around 150 hearts available for transplantation. Patients and surgeons are in need of a more efficient solution.

Experts believe that stem cell therapy could help thousands more people in the UK each year:

How does a society value a treatment that needs another young person to die first and is applicable to less than one per cent of those who might benefit? I think within ten years we won't see anymore heart transplants, except for people with congenital heart damage, where only a new heart will do. I think the combination of heart pumps and stem cells has the potential to be a good alternative which could help far more people.

Prof. Stephen Westaby, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford 

Already, stem cells have proven to reverse heart tissue scarring, by being injected into the hearts of patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery. There is also a clinical trial at Royal Brompton Hospital using stem cell injections to stop patients from reaching the stage where they need a heart transplant.

At present, heart transplant patients can live for up to 20 years with an excellent quality of life. Therefore the priority is still to encourage more organ donations, with the BHF funding research into organ rejection and how to improve success rates. But there is solid proof that in the not-too-distant future, the need for heart transplant operations could be eradicated using stem cells.