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Tulane Center for Gene Therapy to Study Repair of Heart Damage Using Stem Cells

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The Tulane Center for Gene Therapy has received a four-year grant of more than $1.75 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to study ways that adult stem cells might repair damaged heart tissue.

"We're excited to receive this funding, which represents our first major grant to explore the potential of stem cells to repair heart damage," says Darwin Prockop, the center's director. "This is a medical problem of tremendous importance, because heart disease is the leading cause of death of American adults."

This year, an estimated 650,000 Americans will have a new heart attack and another 450,000 will have a recurrent attack, according to the American Heart Association. In addition, about five million Americans have chronic heart failure that becomes progressively severe with time.

With this grant, Prockop and his team, including William Chilean, a co-principal investigator at the LSU Health Sciences Center, seek to better understand adult stem cells and characterize them according to the life cycle of the stem cells - from early precursors to mature stem cells.

Prockop and his research team have developed techniques to take about a teaspoonful of stem cells from the bone marrow of an adult donor and grow nearly limitless numbers of the cells in the laboratory.

Initially, the team will inject stem cells into rats that have sustained heart damage similar to that of a patient who has had a heart attack, then into rats with prolonged reduction of blood flow (more extensive heart damage).

Earlier this summer, Tulane was selected by the National Center for Research Resources (NIH) to establish a worldwide resource center for the preparation, quality testing and distribution of adult stem cells to researchers.