Stem cells used to clear-up clogged arteries

LOS ANGELES "Anybody messes with me they're going to get a big something, something," said Christina McDonald, who suffers from PAD.

McDonald, 76, can take care of herself. Her biggest threat is something she can't see -- only feel.

"It's something like a Charlie horse, where the muscles stiffen up," said McDonald.

McDonald has peripheral arterial disease, or PAD.

"I'm not good at these bloody medical words," said McDonald.

The arteries in her leg are clogged with plaque which puts her at risk for heart attack, stroke and amputation. Traditionally, doctors treat PAD with stents, angioplasties or bypasses. But now, they're using a patient's own stem cells to try and save her legs.

"We basically take stem cells from their hips to help grow blood vessels," said Dr. Randall Franz of Grant Medical Center.

Doctors use a needle to remove bone marrow from the patient's hip. The marrow goes into a centrifuge to separate the stem cells.

"When we put it in you can see it was just all red. Now we have plasma, a buff coat and stem cells," said Dr. Tom Hankins of Grant Medical Center.

Then, doctors inject the stem cells into the patient's leg.

"It creates new, smaller blood vessels that give blood supply to the limb," said Dr. Franz.

In one study, six out of nine patients who received the stem cell treatment avoided major amputation. McDonald had the treatment. Three months later, her leg pain and cramps are gone. She is pain-free and spunky as ever.

"Mess with me, you mess with a fighter," said McDonald.

This therapy is currently under trial and not yet FDA approved. It's estimated eight to 12 million people in the U.S. have PAD. Risk factors include smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and a family history of heart disease. Leg pain after walking is the most common symptom.

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Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common circulatory problem where narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs. When people develop PAD, their legs typically don't receive enough blood flow to keep up with the demand. The most common symptom is leg pain when walking. PAD may also be a sign of a more widespread accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries. The prevalence of PAD has been increasing in recent years, affecting anywhere from 8 million to 12 million people in the United States. Risk factors include being aged 65 or older, smoking, having diabetes, having hypertension or high cholesterol and a family history of cardiovascular disease.


Treatments for PAD depend on the severity of symptoms and typically range from prescription medications to open surgical interventions. For patients with end-stage PAD, limb amputation may be the only option. More than 100,000 limb amputations are performed each year because of PAD. The annual cost associated with amputations in the United States is about $13 billion.


Doctors are now using a patient's own stem cells to treat PAD and potentially save limbs. They place a needle into the patient's hip to remove bone marrow. The marrow goes into a centrifuge to separate the stem cells. Then, doctors inject the cells into the arteries and muscles in the leg. "It creates new, smaller blood vessels that give blood supply to the limb," Randall Franz, M.D., FACS, RVT, a vascular surgeon from Grant Medical Center in Columbus, OH, told Ivanhoe.

In one study conducted by researchers from the Vascular and Vein Center at Grant Medical Center, six out of nine patients who received the stem cell treatment were able to avoid major amputation. Authors of that study concluded, "With eight (88.9 percent) of nine patients showing some level of improvement and amputation avoided in six patients, these short-term results indicate the use of BM-MNC (bone marrow mononuclear cell) implantation as a means of limb salvage therapy for patients with severe PAD shows promise in postponing or avoiding amputation in a patient population currently presented with few alternatives to amputation."

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