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University Research

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After two heart attacks, Michael Jones of Louisville suffered heart failure that made him so weak he could manage only a few football passes now and then with his grandson. But after becoming one of the world’s first heart patients to get an infusion of cardiac stem cells, Jones, 66, works out on a treadmill and bike and feels invigorated.

“I might even start jogging again,” the self-employed painting and remodeling contractor said.

Jones received an infusion of his own stem cells in July through a minimally invasive catheterization procedure as part of a clinical trial being conducted by a team of University of Louisville physicians at Jewish Hospital. The doctors use adult cardiac stem cells to heal hearts.

“It is an important, historic announcement,” UofL President James Ramsey said. “The No. 1 killer is heart disease, and we in Kentucky have a higher incidence than the national average.”

Kentucky ranks seventh-worst in the nation for cardiovascular deaths with about 14,000 a year, according to American Heart Association statistics. Heart failure is one of the worst cardiovascular conditions, afflicting about 6 million Americans, said study leader Dr. Roberto Bolli, Jewish Hospital Heart and Lung Institute Distinguished Chair in Cardiology. Often, the only options for patients are transplants, heart-assist devices or palliative care.

Mortality rates are high “and the treatments we have are, by and large, unsatisfactory,” said Bolli,.

Jones had blocked arteries that caused permanent scarring of his heart muscle. He was a good candidate for the stem cell procedure, doctors said, because he had not yet had bypass surgery.

In March, Dr. Mark Slaughter, chief of UofL’s division of cardiothoracic surgery, performed coronary artery bypass surgery, removing Jones’ cardiac stem cells from a portion of the upper chamber of the heart. The tissue was frozen and sent to colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard University, where stem cells were isolated and expanded before being sent back to Jewish Hospital.

Jones has experienced an increase in the “ejection fraction” from his left ventricle, a measure of blood being pumped, from less than 25 percent to about 30 percent – healthy people measure at 50 percent or more. Doctors hope to see him continue to improve.

Doctors said they have enrolled 14 patients in the clinical trial so far and hope to treat a total of 20 patients. They’ll be compared against 20 control subjects. Bolli said the hospital and doctors are donating their services and facilities, so trial costs are reduced to $10,000 to $20,000 a patient from UofL research funds.

If UofL’s stem cell procedure succeeds, doctors said, it could become a routine treatment in three to five years.

UofL Neuroscientists Enable Paralyzed Rats to Walk Again
Neuroscience researchers at the University of Louisville will be collaborating with an international group of scientists that recently announced they had enabled paralyzed rats to walk while supporting their own weight.

Dr. Susan Harkema, the University of Louisville’s Owsley Brown Frazier Chair in Neurological Rehabilitation professor, rehabilitation director at the university’s Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center (KSCIRC) and the director of research at Frazier Rehab Institute, is evaluating how to translate into humans the success accomplished in the animals.

“We have been collaborating with this particular group of researchers for a number of years,” Harkema said. “The results they have shown are very exciting, and we look forward to determining how to take their animal findings and move it into applications for humans.”

The research team at UCLA found that a combination of drugs, electrical stimulation and regular exercise was enough to allow the rats to walk. One of the key things demonstrated is that regeneration of severed nerve fibers is not required for the animals to learn to walk again.

“Spine cells in mammals generate a current that helps make muscles and parts of the body move. If we can find ways to harness that current and stimulate appropriate areas with electrical stimulation to enhance that current, we may be able to help people who have complete spinal cord injuries stand and walk on their own,” Harkema said.

Statistics from the University of Alabama National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center show that approximately 1.25 million Americans are spinal cord injured. Fifty-two percent of spinal cord injured individuals are considered paraplegic and 47 percent quadriplegic. Approximately 11,000 new injuries occur each year. Fifty-six percent of injuries occur between the ages of 16 and 30. The average age of a spinal cord injured person is 31.

UK Visualization Center Uses Technology to Explore the Past
This summer, researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Engineering’s Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments crossed continents and oceans demonstrating separate technologies that can unlock antiquity.

Computer science professor Brent Seales took a team to Paris, France, to scan scrolls carbonized by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Meanwhile, electrical engineering graduate student Eli Crane accompanied a Transylvania University archaeologist to Honduras, where Crane used a three-dimensional scanner newly developed by professor Laurence Hassebrook to capture images of ancient rock carvings.

Seales’ project may help scholars to digitally “open” ancient scrolls and manuscripts that are too brittle to be handled. Seales and his team used special equipment to perform scans of carbonized papyri being maintained at the Institut de France.

The scrolls were placed in specially molded containers that supported the fragile materials. The containers were then placed in a machine similar to a medical CT scanner that sampled data on each layer of the scrolls.

“The materials were in the machine all night long so the machine could take a several-hour scan. One section of a scroll usually took three hours to scan,” Seales said.

While Seales was in Paris, Crane was in Honduras with Transy archaeologist Chris Begley, armed with a portable scanner to render three-dimensional images.

The scanner projects a pattern of lines of light on an object in ways that capture a target’s contours, nooks and crannies.

“We found you could use patterned structured light to get three-dimensional information about worn artifacts,” Hassebrook said. The techniques have led to newly developed scanning devices for palm- and fingerprints, faces and other purposes.

Crane used the scanner to capture images of petroglyphs carved into stones. Each scan would take between five and 30 minutes.

After returning from their separate trips, both Seales and Crane worked to develop algorithms that computers will use to interpret the data and render 3-D images.

“We think it will be Christmas before we have a definitive handle on what’s in the scrolls we scanned in Paris,” Seales said.

“We hope to have our first scans (from Honduras) processed before Thanksgiving break,” Hassebrook said.

UK Researcher Refining Portable Lung-Assist Device to Keep Patients Ambulatory
The University of Kentucky’s Jay Zwischenberger (his friends and colleagues call him “Zwisch”) is doing something to improve the odds of obtaining a needed lung transplant.

For the past 20 years, he’s been working with a group of researchers from the universities of Michigan, Pittsburgh and Maryland to develop and refine a miniaturized heart-lung machine that has evolved into an artificial lung apparatus. This device isn’t implanted in place of a donor lung; it’s outside of the body, Zwischenberger explains, and small enough to be carried by the patient.

“Our artificial lung is more of a concept than a thing,” he said. “It’s not a single entity but more like a component stereo. With this approach, we can keep refining each component as we learn more about how it’s functioning by itself and in concert with the other devices as technology improves.”

Zwischenberger’s system begins with a double-lumen catheter, which has two openings – one for infusion and the other for blood removal – combined with a pump-powered gas-exchanger that reduces strain on the heart.

His catheter (patented recently with partner Dongfang Wang) transports blood from the superior and inferior vena cava (veins that carry deoxygenated blood from the upper and lower halves of the body) to the gas exchanger, which removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen to the blood. Oxygenated blood then returns through the catheter into the right atrium, and the loop begins again.

This artificial lung has several advantages over a traditional heart-lung machine: It would allow patients to remain ambulatory, no sedation or breathing tube insertion would be needed, and it would dramatically reduce the possibility of infection.

“In developing all three components of this system, we’ve been working with some of the top scientists and engineers in the world. We’ve collaborated with the best pump-maker to continually improve our pump, and we’ve taken the same approach with our gas-exchange device. We’re working with companies in the United States and in Europe to develop all three devices,” said Zwischenberger.

“There’s work to be done,” he said, “but we’re well on our way to building an effective bridge to lung transplant.”