Surgeons have, for the first time, used a combination of an artificial heart and stem cells to save the life of a dying man.

Ioannis Manolopoulos was fitted with the mechanical pump because his heart was too weak to push blood around his body. Surgeons then injected his failing heart muscle with six million of his stem cells in the hope that they would repair the damage. Speaking exclusively to Sky News, he said he owed the British and Greek surgeons his life. He said: “If things go well, I must go to church and pray because I feel very lucky to get this device and have the chance of a normal life.”

The team was led by British surgeon, Professor Stephen Westaby. He has pioneered the use of mechanical pumps in patients suffering from heart failure. But the NHS will not pay for the treatment. Instead he relies on charity funding – or travels abroad to implant pumps in countries where governments are prepared to fund the £60,000 devices.

He said: “I am very frustrated that all the work that I have done back home in the UK has to be translated into patient care in other countries”.

“We have helped to develop implantation programmes in France, Greece and Japan. It’s time we did it in the UK.”
Sky News 24th September 2009

The most common heart attack happens when a coronary artery (a blood vessel that supplies the heart with blood) carrying oxygen-rich blood to heart muscle is blocked. Stem cells are injected into and around the heart; these cells build new blood vessels and restore function to the damaged heart tissue.

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