Clinic Involved In Unique Muscle Cell Transplant

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona man became one of the first people in the country to get a muscle cell transplant to repair his ailing heart.

Doctors at the Arizona Heart Institute and Hospital on Tuesday injected muscle cells from Stanley Thomure's leg into his heart to replace those damaged by cardiovascular disease.

"The good outweighs the bad," the 63-year-old Thomure said before the surgery. "It could work not only for the heart but many other things."

The procedure is part of a clinical trial involving three centers -- UCLA, the Cleveland Clinic and the Arizona Heart Institute.

During the procedure, doctors extract cells from muscles in a patient's arm or leg, grow them in a culture for a few weeks and inject them into a patient's heart.

Because the tissue returns to its original owner, the patient doesn't have to worry about rejection issues associated with donor organs.

Before cardiovascular surgeon Edward Diethrich, founder of the Arizona Heart Institute, performed the skeletal muscle cell transplant surgery, he did a triple bypass on Thomure's heart.

During the last 10 minutes of the procedure, Diethrich made three injections consisting of 30 million muscle cells taken several weeks ago from Thomure's quadriceps.

"Overall, we would think if you inject more cells, it would be more beneficial," Diethrich said. "But part of the study will be determining the optimal cell level, and that might be at the end of (the) 1 million range."

Risks from the procedure are "extremely slight," Diethrich said. They actually are associated with the bypass part of the surgery, specifically infection, allergic reaction or the introduction of a heart arrhythmia.

The therapy has been proven in animals. In humans, scientists in Paris have had the only success, and that has been in the past year.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country and kills 500,000, or one in five, Americans each year.

In the 26 years since Thomure had his first heart attack, he has had several angioplasties and stents put in to treat blocked arteries. But the dead muscle, which restricted blood flow to and from his heart, remained.

He'll spend the next five days at the hospital recovering from the surgery. His progress will be followed for two years, and he'll undergo tests to determine whether his heart functions better than before.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)