A pilot study suggests that fat cells derived from the belly can stimulate heart function after stroke and help repair the heart damage.

The study presented at the American Heart Association's annual conference examined 14 patients who had suffered severe heart attack. Among them, 10 patients were given belly fat stem cell therapy and the rest other treatment. The study found delivery of the fat cells extracted from the patients’ belly improved the blood flow 3.5 fold and showed a 5.7 percent increase in heart pumping. It also reduced the muscle damage to 15 percent compared to 25 percent in other heart patients. The stem cell delivery did not affect the blood flow or cause irregular heartbeats in the patient as feared by the researchers.

"The evidence strongly suggests fat stem cells can stimulate the repair process after a heart attack. But these are still early days. We have to await the results of larger randomized trials [pitting placebo against fat stem cells] to determine if the method improves quality of life and extends lives," said Douglas Losordo, a stem cell researcher at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Doctors in the past had treated heart patients with stem cells. But, this is the first time belly fat cells are used in the treatment. According to researchers belly fat is more convenient and easy source of stem cells compared to bone marrow. Forty cubic centimeters of bone marrow contains only 25,000 stem cells whereas 100 cubic centimeters of fat tissue contains 2 million stem cells. "The advantage of fat-derived cells is the ease with which you can get them. You don't get enough stem cells from bone marrow, so you have to culture them in the lab, a process that can take six to eight weeks," pointed out Eric Duckers, Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.