Despite significant therapeutic advances, the prognosis of patients with heart failure (HF) remains poor, and current therapeutic approaches are palliative in the sense that they do not address the underlying problem of the loss of cardiac tissue. Stem cell-based therapies have the potential to fundamentally transform the treatment of HF by achieving what would have been unthinkable only a few years ago-myocardial regeneration. For the first time since cardiac transplantation, a therapy is being developed to eliminate the underlying cause of HF, not just to achieve damage control. Since the initial report of cell therapy (skeletal myoblasts) in HF in 1998, research has proceeded at lightning speed, and numerous preclinical and clinical studies have been performed that support the ability of various stem cell populations to improve cardiac function and reduce infarct size in both ischemic and nonischemic cardiomyopathy. Nevertheless, we are still at the dawn of this therapeutic revolution. Many important issues (eg, mechanism(s) of action of stem cells, long-term engraftment, optimal cell type(s), and dose, route, and frequency of cell administration) remain to be resolved, and no cell therapy has been conclusively shown to be effective. The purpose of this article is to critically review the large body of work performed with respect to the use of stem/progenitor cells in HF, both at the experimental and clinical levels, and to discuss current controversies, unresolved issues, challenges, and future directions. The review focuses specifically on chronic HF; other settings (eg, acute myocardial infarction, refractory angina) are not discussed.
Keywords: heart failure; myocardial infarction; myocardial regeneration; stem cells.