New Stem Cell Therapy May Transform Heart Failure Treatment

Washington, D.C., April 18, 2018 – Clinical trial planning is underway at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute to determine whether a novel stem cell therapy will improve heart function for patients with heart failure. MedStar Heart, in partnership with CardioCell, a subsidiary of Stemedica Cell Technologies, pioneered the use of stem cells in regenerative medicine. The trial will use CardioCell’s proprietary mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), manufactured by Stemedica. The goal is to improve outcomes in patients with heart failure and left ventricular assist devices (LVAD).

MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute has been studying the causes of the progressive deterioration of heart function that patients with heart failure experience over time, as well as the potential therapeutic role of stem cells. “We have developed compelling evidence that one of the major mechanisms leading to progressive myocardial dysfunction in patients with heart failure is the presence of persistent and inappropriate inflammation," said Stephen Epstein, MD, director of Translational and Vascular Biology Research at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. "Of great therapeutic relevance is the fact that mesenchymal stem cells have marked anti-inflammatory effects.” Dr. Epstein and his colleagues demonstrated in mouse models of heart attack and of heart failure that intravenously administered MSCs lead to a magnitude of improved heart function that is unprecedented.

“This study, if successful, will lead to pivotal trials that, in turn, will have the potential to alter strategies of treating LVAD patients that could markedly improve their symptoms and outcomes,” added Steven Boyce, MD, surgical director of the Advanced Heart Failure program at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute.

There are nearly six million Americans with heart failure, and about 650,000 new cases occur each year. Each year 200,000 to 250,000 heart failure patients need heart transplantation, but with the very low supply of donor hearts, LVADs are being used with increasing frequency. An LVAD is a small pump that helps circulate the patient’s blood when their heart becomes too weak to pump effectively on its own. Although highly effective in alleviating symptoms and improving longevity, patients with LVAD support still have a high incidence of serious complications, including a high mortality rate. Persistent inflammation is also a probable major cause of deterioration of LVAD patients.

“If we are successful in showing stem cells improve outcomes in LVAD patients, the results would extend to the general population of heart failure patients and, in the process, fundamentally transform current paradigms for treating heart failure patients,” Dr. Epstein concluded.


About MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is a national leader in the research, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. A network of 10 hospitals and 150 cardiovascular physicians throughout Maryland, Northern Virginia and the Greater Washington, D.C., region, MedStar Heart also offers a clinical and research alliance with Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute, the nation’s #1 heart program. Together, they have forged a relationship of shared expertise to enhance quality, improve safety and increase access to advanced services. MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute was founded at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, home to the Nancy and Harold Zirkin Heart & Vascular Hospital. Opened in July 2016, the hospital ushered in a new era of coordinated, centralized specialty care for patients with even the most complex heart and vascular diagnoses.


So Young Pak
[email protected]

Building a Future

Leading up to this summer's opening of the Nancy and Harold Zirkin Heart & Vascular Hospital at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we will be sharing a series of stories that provide a glimpse into the lives of some of our heart and vascular patients, the care they received and what life has been like for them since being treated. Today, we visit with Alberto Gomez. 

Advanced Heart Failure Takes its Toll

Alberto Gomez is the owner of a Washington, D.C.-based construction company who has always enjoyed good health, and who has rarely spent much time with doctors aside from yearly physical examinations.

However, noticeable fatigue and discomfort led him to seek care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. At the age of 66, Alberto was diagnosed with advanced heart failure. He was given the sobering news that his heart was functioning at an estimated 15%, and that he would need a heart transplant in order to survive.

“It was a very sobering experience to come from not having seen doctors in a long time to seeing them every day, to every 5 minutes, to every 15 minutes,” shares Alberto.

A Second Chance

After meeting with Dr. Ezequiel Molina, a cardiac surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Alberto learned that he was a candidate for a new technology called Left Ventricular Assist Device or LVAD, a device that is implanted into the chest that supports the pumping function of the heart. This would be his lifeline until he was able to receive a heart transplant.

After receiving the LVAD, Mr. Gomez suffered complications, such as strokes, that left him with limited movement and speech impairments. Throughout this process, he received a lot of therapy and encouragement from his team at MedStar, “and the smiles,” says Alberto. “I tell a lot of jokes so I can laugh when people laugh, and I can enjoy them when they enjoy them.”

Alberto’s willingness to work in conjunction with the doctors, as well as the holistic approach to care that Alberto received from the team at MedStar, made a huge impact on his recovery process. He shares that, “the support one receives from the professional staff, the administrative staff, the nurses, and everyone around, they create the environment for recovering much faster than it would normally take.”

A New Heart

On November 9, 2014, Alberto received a call from Jessica Rice, a heart transplant coordinator at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, letting him know that a matching heart had been found.

On December 10, 2014, the same influential team at the Hospital Center that worked with Alberto to diagnose and treat his advanced heart failure with the LVAD device, helped implant his new heart. Continuing his care with the same team was paramount in his process. “They knew what was inside, they knew what they had to take out, and now they knew how they were going to transplant the new organ in,” says Alberto. “My doctors were not just my doctors. They were my friends, they became part of the family, they were my confidence.”

Back To The Business Of Life

Alberto is still growing accustomed to life with his new heart. His motto is, “it’s not a fast race, it’s a race of endurance. It’s not how fast I go, it’s how secure I get there.” He is much more careful with how he cares for his body, he is more aware of the movements he makes and is careful not to put too much strain on his muscles until he recovers his full strength.

Now, Alberto is back to running his construction business, Prince Construction, with a keener outlook on life.

Alberto wakes up each day with gratitude, “you appreciate now what used to be somebody else’s heart, and it’s a heart that you take care of and every day the first thing you do is thank God for being alive and pray for the donor and the family who were generous enough to allow their sibling to provide a heart for you to keep living.”

He wants others experiencing a weakened heart or coping with advanced heart failure to know that, “there is hope that there are ways to overcome it, and with faith and determination and with professional knowledge of the doctors you are in great shape to recover."

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about advanced heart failure or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

Subscribe to Blog

Get health tips and the latest news in your inbox.

Advanced Heart Failure

Advanced Heart Failure

Many patients find they can manage their heart failure and maintain their quality of life with lifestyle changes and basic medicines prescribed by our doctors.But if the condition worsens, we also offer powerful medications, sophisticated devices to help the heart and even transplants. The cardiologists and surgeons in our Advanced Heart Failure Program have the expertise and experience needed to successfully offer these complex treatments.    

Our team will help you decide on the treatment plan that makes the most sense for you. We also work closely with family members and other caregivers. Learn more about the renowned team at our Advanced Heart Failure Program.

Advanced Heart Failure Symptoms

Advanced heart failure symptoms are similar to those experienced by patients with less serious disease. The difference is that symptoms can be felt with minimal exertion or even at rest. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs and feet
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Irregular heartbeat (learn more about cardiac arrhythmia)
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain

 The severity of symptoms can still vary from day-to-day, or even within the same day.

 Learn more about heart failure

Advanced Heart Failure Treatment

Our doctors usually treat less-severe heart failure with lifestyle changes and more common medications. But more advanced heart failure often requires a deeper approach. Possible options include:

  • Inotropes: Medications that increase your heart’s squeezing capacity (only select centers like ours can send patients home on these powerful medications)
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device: Ensures the right and left side of your heart contract at the same time (learn more about pacemakers)
  • Percutaneous valves: Repair or replacement of heart valves with a minimally invasive approach that avoids open-heart surgery
  • Left ventricular assist devices (LVAD): Devices that help the heart, either as permanent treatment or as a temporary measure before transplant
  • Heart transplant: Replacement of the heart with a donor organ 

Make an Appointment

For an appointment with a specialist, call  


Find a Doctor 

Our providers can find the best solution just for you.

Read More in Our Blog

Building a Future: Patient Success Story