Chemotherapy-induced Heart Damage Reversed in Rats


A class of chemotherapy drugs, anthracyclines, are very effective in treating some types of cancer, but are often damaging to the heart muscle. This cardiotoxicity is most often manifested as left-ventricular systolic dysfunction (LVSD) and heart failure.

New research using rats shows that this heart tissue damage from the chemotherapy drugs was reversed in rats by using their own cardiac stem cells (CSCs) that weren’t exposed to the cancer treatment. These cells improved the heart function and reversed the heart failure, according to a new study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study followed rats that developed heart damage after treatment with the anthracycline drug doxorubicin. After heart damage occurred, researchers introduced the CSCs that had not been exposed to doxorubicin to see if the cells could repair the damage.


The early-stage research will lead to studying humans exposed to a class of chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines, which is very effective in treating certain types of cancers. Those at most risk from heart damage are the young and those who already have heart disease.

“We repopulated the heart muscle with CSCs and this intervention rescued the heart,” said Piero Anversa, M.D., one of the study’s authors and director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine in the Departments of Anesthesia and Medicine and Cardiovascular Division at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. “This approach may be used in patients affected by cancer who received chemotherapy drugs. Cardiac stem cells could be collected before chemotherapy, then expanded and stored. If heart failure occurs, the patient may receive his/her own cardiac stem cells to regenerate damage.” This study was performed in collaboration with Professor Francesco Rossi, Chairman of the Department of Experimental Medicine in Naples.

Co-authors are: Antonella De Angelis, Ph.D.; Elena Piegari, Ph.D.; Donato Cappetta, Ph.D.; Laura Marino, M.S.; Amelia Filippelli, M.D.; Liberato Berrino, M.D.; João Ferreira-Martins, M.D.; Hanqiao Zheng, M.D.; Toru Hosoda, M.D., Ph.D.; Marcello Rota, Ph.D., Konrad Urbanek, M.D.; Jan Kajstura, Ph.D.; and Annarosa Leri, M.D.

The study was funded partly by the National Institutes of Health. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.