LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Its a shocking statistic. What was once considered a man's disease, is the now the number one killer of women - heart disease.
The breakthrough medical procedure, still in the clinical clinical trial phase, may be the "fountain of youth" for a woman's heart.
At the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute doctors are taking fat cells from women and re-injecting those cells into the heart. It may hold the key to repairing a woman's damaged heart, even reversing the signs of an aging heart.
Just seven months ago 50-year-old Diana Mickel said she felt like she was in the prime of her life. She's fit, active and in good health. Until one day at her office, a co-worker noticed something was not right.
"I went to get my three o'clock cup of coffee and came back to the office and thought wow I feel really weird and she looked at me and said 'oh my gosh,' and she ran out in the hallway and started yelling 'help somebody come help me,'" Mickel said.
Mickel was having a stroke and more tests determined her heart valve was failing. She would need open heart surgery.
"As a woman my first thought was I am gonna have this horrible scar down my chest. I'm gonna have to wear turtle necks the rest of my life," Mickel said.
Scar or not, she said she knows she's lucky to be alive. She now has an artificial valve and is on blood thinners. But now, research going on at the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute may have found a way to turn back the hands of time on Diana's heart and other women's hearts.
"So what we are trying to figure out is, how can we take these cells out from our body, manipulate them in a way to promote a therapeutic effect once we implant them into the body, " Dr. Amanda Jo LeBlanc, a CII researcher, said.
LeBlanc is leading the research with a grant from the American Heart Association. So far she's regenerative cells inside a woman's fat cells, and by re-injecting that fat into a woman's heart has a fountain of youth affect.
"So we put these cells back onto the heart, it increases the profusion in this dying or dead tissue and we are able to see a stabilization of the heart after a heart attack , instead of it progressing to a worse condition . We are able to halt that progress and prevent it from getting worse," LeBlanc said.
Dr. Stuart Williams, the executive and scientific director of the institute, said this type of therapy adapts very well on the small tiny vessels of a woman's heart and the goal in the next stage of research is to catch heart disease before it turns into a bigger problem.
"A big focus of this is the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease specifically in women. This is one of the first instruments that we are going to be able to utilize to evaluate women at a much earlier age than before who may be progressing to cardiovascular disease," Williams said.
For women like Mickel, it could one day help her live longer and feel younger than ever.
"Maybe one day they'll replace that valve and I wont have to be on blood thinners," Mickel said.
This type of cell therapy is already being used in other fields. In Korea its being used for plastic and reconstructive surgery. In the field of veterinary medicine its being used to treat horses with arthritis.