A new medical procedure that uses a patient's own heart cells to reverse heart damage is being hailed as the biggest advancement in cardiology in decades.
Doctors from the University of Louisville have tested the breakthrough procedure on 16 patients.
So far, the process has proven to be safe and effective at dramatically increasing heart function.
"If this is confirmed in further studies, it could offer an entirely new option and a potential cure for patients who are now dying from heart failure," said Dr. Roberto Bolli, director of cardiology at University of Louisville and lead author of the study published in Monday in The Lancet.
During the treatment heart cells are removed from the body. Stem cells are then grown in a lab and injected back into the heart's blood supply. There they begin to grow heart muscle.
"If you think about (it), how much more natural can it be for your body to heal itself?" heart patient Mike Jones explained.
Jones suffered a massive heart attack in 2004 and became the first patient to receive the trial stem cell treatment in July 2009. He said the procedure gave him more years to live and a better quality of life.
"That's what so beautiful about this," Jones said. "This thing is so beautifully simple. The heart heals itself. It's nature's way of doing things."
The procedure is still in the trial stage, but experts called the patients' improvements remarkable.