A promising approach to the treatment of chronic ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and heart failure is the use of stem cells.
The last decade has seen a plethora of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) developed worldwide which have generated conflicting results.
The critical evaluation of clinical evidence on the safety and efficacy of autologous adult bone marrow-derived stem cells (BMSC) as a treatment for chronic ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and heart failure.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library, 2013, Issue 3), MEDLINE (from 1950), EMBASE (from 1974), CINAHL (from 1982) and the Transfusion Evidence Library (from 1980), together with ongoing trial databases, for relevant trials up to 31st March 2013.
Eligible studies included RCTs comparing autologous adult stem/progenitor cells with no autologous stem/progenitor cells in participants with chronic IHD and heart failure. Co-interventions such as primary angioplasty, surgery or administration of stem cell mobilising agents, were included where administered to treatment and control arms equally.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently screened all references for eligibility, assessed trial quality and extracted data. We undertook a quantitative evaluation of data using fixed-effect meta-analyses. We evaluated heterogeneity using the I² statistic; we explored considerable heterogeneity (I² > 75%) using a random-effects model and subgroup analyses.
We include 23 RCTs involving 1255 participants in this review. Risk of bias was generally low, with the majority of studies reporting appropriate methods of randomisation and blinding, Autologous bone marrow stem cell treatment reduced the incidence of mortality (risk ratio (RR) 0.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.14 to 0.53, P = 0.0001, 8 studies, 494 participants, low quality evidence) and rehospitalisation due to heart failure (RR 0.26, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.94, P = 0.04, 2 studies, 198 participants, low quality evidence) in the long term (≥12 months). The treatment had no clear effect on mortality (RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.32 to 1.41, P = 0.30, 21 studies, 1138 participants, low quality evidence) or rehospitalisation due to heart failure (RR 0.36, 95% CI 0.12 to 1.06, P = 0.06, 4 studies, 236 participants, low quality evidence) in the short term (< 12 months), which is compatible with benefit, no difference or harm. The treatment was also associated with a reduction in left ventricular end systolic volume (LVESV) (mean difference (MD) -14.64 ml, 95% CI -20.88 ml to -8.39 ml, P < 0.00001, 3 studies, 153 participants, moderate quality evidence) and stroke volume index (MD 6.52, 95% CI 1.51 to 11.54, P = 0.01, 2 studies, 62 participants, moderate quality evidence), and an improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) (MD 2.62%, 95% CI 0.50% to 4.73%, P = 0.02, 6 studies, 254 participants, moderate quality evidence), all at long-term follow-up. Overall, we observed a reduction in functional class (New York Heart Association (NYHA) class) in favour of BMSC treatment during short-term follow-up (MD -0.63, 95% CI -1.08 to -0.19, P = 0.005, 11 studies, 486 participants, moderate quality evidence) and long-term follow-up (MD -0.91, 95% CI -1.38 to -0.44, P = 0.0002, 4 studies, 196 participants, moderate quality evidence), as well as a difference in Canadian Cardiovascular Society score in favour of BMSC (MD -0.81, 95% CI -1.55 to -0.07, P = 0.03, 8 studies, 379 participants, moderate quality evidence). Of 19 trials in which adverse events were reported, adverse events relating to the BMSC treatment or procedure occurred in only four individuals. No long-term adverse events were reported. Subgroup analyses conducted for outcomes such as LVEF and NYHA class revealed that (i) route of administration, (ii) baseline LVEF, (iii) cell type, and (iv) clinical condition are important factors that may influence treatment effect.
This systematic review and meta-analysis found moderate quality evidence that BMSC treatment improves LVEF. Unlike in trials where BMSC were administered following acute myocardial infarction (AMI), we found some evidence for a potential beneficial clinical effect in terms of mortality and performance status in the long term (after at least one year) in people who suffer from chronic IHD and heart failure, although the quality of evidence was low.
Plain language summary
Stem cell treatment for chronic ischaemic heart disease and congestive heart failure
Those suffering from heart disease and heart failure are currently treated with drugs and, when possible, the blood supply is restored in the heart (revascularisation) either by opening the arteries with a tiny balloon in a procedure called primary angioplasty (or percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)) or by heart surgery (or coronary artery bypass graft (CABG)). Revascularisation has reduced the death rate associated with these conditions. In some people heart disease and heart failure symptoms persist even after revascularisation. Those people may not have other treatments available to them. Recently, bone marrow stem/progenitor cells have been investigated as a new treatment for people with heart disease and heart failure, whether they are also treated for revascularisation or not. Results from 23 randomised controlled trials, covering more than 1200 participants, to 2013 indicates that this new treatment leads to a reduction in deaths and readmission to hospital and improvements over standard treatment as measured by tests of heart function. At present, these results provide some evidence that stem cell treatment may be of benefit in people both with chronic ischaemic heart disease and with heart failure. Adverse events are rare, with no long-term adverse events reported. However, the quality of the evidence is relatively low because there were few deaths and hospital readmissions in the studies, and individual study results varied. Further research involving a large number of participants is required to confirm these results.