Here is the full text of Dr. Chuck Murry’s talk titled “Regrowing heart muscle with stem cells” at TEDxSeattle conference.
For over 20 years, Dr. Chuck Murry has studied the causes of cardiovascular disease and researched harnessing the potential of stem cells to repair damaged heart muscle. In this talk, he shares his journey and groundbreaking research, providing hope through evidence that we can heal the heart.
Dr. Chuck Murry – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I’d like to tell you about a patient named Donna. In this photograph, Donna was in her mid-70s, a vigorous, healthy woman, the matriarch of a large clan. She had a family history of heart disease, however, and one day, she had the sudden onset of crushing chest pain.
Now unfortunately, rather than seeking medical attention, Donna took to her bed for about 12 hours until the pain passed. The next time she went to see her physician, he performed an electrocardiogram, and this showed that she’d had a large heart attack, or a “myocardial infarction” in medical parlance.
After this heart attack, Donna was never quite the same. Her energy levels progressively waned, she couldn’t do a lot of the physical activities she’d previously enjoyed. It got to the point where she couldn’t keep up with her grandkids, and it was even too much work to go out to the end of the driveway to pick up the mail.
One day, her granddaughter came by to walk the dog, and she found her grandmother dead in the chair. Doctors said it was a cardiac arrhythmia that was secondary to heart failure. But the last thing that I should tell you is that Donna was not just an ordinary patient. Donna was my mother.
Stories like ours are, unfortunately, far too common. Heart disease is the number one killer in the entire world. In the United States, it’s the most common reason that patients are admitted to the hospital, and it’s our number one health care expense. We spend over $100 billion — billion with a “B” — in this country every year on the treatment of heart disease. Just for reference, that’s more than twice the annual budget of the state of Washington.
What makes this disease so deadly?
Well, it all starts with the fact that the heart is the least regenerative organ in the human body. Now, a heart attack happens when a blood clot forms in a coronary artery that feeds blood to the wall of the heart. So this plugs the blood flow, and the heart muscle is very metabolically active, and so it dies very quickly, within just a few hours of having its blood flow interrupted.
Since the heart can’t grow back new muscle, it heals by scar formation. This leaves the patient with a deficit in the amount of heart muscle that they have. And in too many people, their illness progresses to the point where the heart can no longer keep up with the body’s demand for blood flow. This imbalance between supply and demand is the crux of heart failure.
So when I talk to people about this problem, I often get a shrug and a statement to the effect of, “Well, you know, Chuck, we’ve got to die of something.”
And yeah, but what this also tells me is that we’ve resigned ourselves to this as the status quo because we have to. Or do we? I think there’s a better way, and this better way involves the use of stem cells as medicines.
So what exactly are stem cells?
If you look at them under the microscope, there’s not much going on. They’re just simple little round cells. But that belies two remarkable attributes.