Fall 2019

Recovering fully after bypass surgery

‘Good enough’ isn’t good enough for heart surgeon Rosemary Kelly, M.D., when it comes to helping people facing chronic ischemia


Following a bypass graft surgery, many people with a heart condition called chronic ischemia, or “hibernating myocardium,” feel pretty good.

When blood flow is restored to the part of the heart that had been “hibernating”—using less energy to stay alive because of a blockage—most people feel better, says M Health Fairview cardiovascular surgery chief Rosemary Kelly, M.D. But their heart function doesn’t fully recover.

“They don’t get worse anymore, but they don’t get back to normal,” she says. “And after 40 years of bypass surgery, there’s been no advance in helping hearts that have reduced function recover.”

Kelly believes the field can do better. She and her lab colleagues are developing a stem cell “patch” to help the heart bounce back to its previous capacity after blood flow is restored. She envisions that, during the bypass surgery, an off-the-shelf patch containing stem cells would be placed directly on the area of the heart needing revitalization. She believes this treatment would help her patients recover more fully, be more resilient to stressors, and live longer.

Though a clinical trial in humans is still likely several years away, Kelly, who directs the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the U of M Medical School’s Department of Surgery, is excited about the progress her team has made so far.

“This patch is pretty innovative, and it’s very translational,” says Kelly, whose research efforts are supported by the C. Walton and Richard C. Lillehei Land-Grant Chair she holds. “That’s where philanthropy makes all the difference—it allows teams to move from innovative idea to changing the lives of patients.”