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Stem Cells For Heart Self-Repair?

Can a human heart repair itself?

One heart is trying.

Heart attack patient Ken Milles is the first person ever to get an infusion of his own, laboratory-grown cardiac stem cells. Doctors at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute are trying to see if his own heart cells will fix the damaged area of his heart.

Milles is part of a 24-patient clinical trial, designed by Dr. Eduardo Marbán of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

The trial procedure begins when healthy heart cells are collected from the patient's heart. Next, the cells are off to the lab, where more stem cells are grown, along with complimentary heart cells. These cells then create complex cardiospheres which, Whitaker reported, can actually start beating in the petri dish. Then, doctors insert the lab-grown stem and support cells into the damaged area of the heart, with hopes that patients like Milles will benefit.

In Milles case, doctors hope to repair an area scarred by a heart attack.

If it works in humans as it has in animals, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, the scarring caused by the heart attack, will begin to heal, the heart will grow new muscle, pump more blood -- and perhaps give the patient a new lease on life.

On "The Early Show" Tuesday, Milles, appearing with Marban from Los Angeles, said he feels "great" since the procedure.

But he added it's going to take awhile for everything to kick in.

Marban told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith they will likely know how effective the procedure was in six months.

But as far as the primary objective -- doing it safely -- Marban said it's a success.

"So far so good, as far as that goes," Marban said.

Marban said they're taking healthy cells doctors didn't even know existed until a few years ago, harvesting them and putting them back in the patient's chest to coax the heart to heal itself.

"We don't really need to do anything other than put (the cells) in the right place," Marban said. "...We hope they'll take root and do the right thing."

Marban said cells like the ones inserted in Milles' chest are present naturally in the heart at low levels to repair crdiac wear and tear, but not enough to cope with a big heart attack.

But, Marban said, through "outsmarting" the heart with these infusions, the hope is for the cells to repair the damaged tissue.

Milles said he was initially "freaked out" when he heard about the trial procedure. The heart attack, he said, was "completely out of the blue." But he said, he was confident in the team to help him.

"I just went with the program," Milles said. "And I'm glad that I did."

Marban added if the trial is successful, other organs, such as the kidneys, may potentially be repaired in the same way.

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