Founders have big dreams for Heart Institute

Modell, business leaders helping Hopkins endeavor

September 22, 2004|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

In the hospital of the future, doctors may harvest stem cells from an ailing patient's heart, grow 10 million or so in a dish and return them to the heart to regenerate dead muscle.

Yesterday, doctors from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions talked glowingly about how revolutionary therapies like this will be delivered in a Heart Institute scheduled to open in 2008. And they had reason to glow.

Against the purple backdrop of M&T Bank Stadium, hospital officials thanked former Ravens owner Art Modell for agreeing to head the governing board of the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute. They thanked other heavy hitters of Baltimore's business community, who also will lend their connections and organizational skills.

The institute will occupy two floors of a critical care tower near Orleans and Wolfe streets, consolidating services scattered across the hallways and buildings of the East Baltimore medical campus.

Modell, who has suffered two heart attacks and a stroke, spent 20 years on the board of the Cleveland Clinic, home to what many regard as the nation's preeminent heart program. He promised yesterday to bring the same energy and passion to Hopkins, saying he hoped to vault its heart program - already renowned for historic innovations - into the position of undisputed national leader.

"We're happy and optimistic we can do for Hopkins what we did for Cleveland, if not more so," Modell said.

Modell said he plans to make "a very significant gift to Hopkins" for an undisclosed amount but will wait until January to do so.

His vice chairman is Edward J. Kelly III, president and chief executive officer of Mercantile Bankshares. Leading the capital campaign is Louis J. Grasmick, president and chief executive officer of Louis J. Grasmick Lumber Co., who had two heart operations at Hopkins and has already donated $1 million.

Dr. William Baumgartner, chief of cardiac surgery, said he looks forward to working in a place where surgeons, cardiologists, radiologists and anesthesiologists - along with bench scientists - will be able to gather to share ideas.

The arrangement will also help patients, who won't have to navigate the sprawling campus for different services, and students, who will have an easier time grasping the connections between specialties, Baumgartner said.

Just a year ago, doctors in New York and Houston reported that they had discovered cardiac stem cells in the human heart that are programmed to repair small injuries.

Since then, a team led by Dr. Eduardo Marban, Hopkins' chief of cardiology, has shown in a pig model that a tiny sample extracted from the right side of the heart can generate 10 million stem cells in a laboratory dish - enough to repair major damage when placed back in the heart.

In the pig, the cells grafted and functioned as normal heart cells - pumping blood to other parts of the body. Human trials of the technique could begin in a few years, he said.

In the future, patients with serious blockages might need plumbing repairs such as bypass surgery or angioplasty - but could also receive stem cells to repair damage already done. The therapy could be used to combat heart failure - the weakening of the heart muscle - and even as a substitute for a transplant.

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