Doug Rice Presentation at “An Encore Toast”

Date: 03/12/2007

An Encore Toast to Adult and Cord Blood Stem Cells: Helping Patients Now and in the Future
Senate Dirksen Building, Rm. 562
Doug Rice
Originally from, April 24, 2006.

Eight years ago, Doug Rice was told he had two years to live.

Congestive heart failure was killing him slowly. Diabetes denied him the option of a transplanted heart. He could barely walk. Stairs were out of the question.

But the 60-year-old Otis Orchards resident held on, not knowing whether each day would be his last, until his ex-wife found something on the Internet late last year that gave Rice his future back.

An international biotechnology company called TheraVitae could extract Rice’s adult stem cells from less than a pint of his own blood, reproduce them in a lab and then inject them back into his heart.

“The more I read about it, I didn’t see it as a gamble,” Rice said. “I felt confident it was going to work – and it did.”

So far, the results have amazed even Rice’s Spokane cardiologist.

But before Rice could undergo the procedure in January, he had to borrow from friends to cover most of the nearly $40,000 cost of having the work done in Bangkok, Thailand. The retired Marine’s medical coverage through the Department of Veterans Affairs would not pay for it. In fact, the procedure is not approved in the United States.

Rice, a self-described entrepreneur, inventor, photographer, stockbroker, race car driver, world traveler and great-grandfather, had run out of options except one, a mechanical heart.

“My father told me that if it takes a machine to keep you alive, you’re not alive,” Rice said. “So I made up my mind not to have the mechanical heart. I felt it was just time to go.”

Rice’s cardiologist, Dr. Don Canaday, said his patient was at end stage heart failure as a result of a series of heart attacks since 1992. His insulin-dependent diabetes made him a poor candidate for transplant.

So Rice flew to Bangkok, where a half pint of his blood was drawn at Chaophya Hospital, packaged in a temperature-controlled container and dispatched to TheraVitae’s laboratory in Israel.

There, scientists isolated adult stem cells from Rice’s blood, multiplied them and differentiated them into millions of stem cells called angiogenic cell precursors, which were sent back to Bangkok, where they were implanted into his coronary artery on Jan. 23. The entire process took about two weeks.

There are several theories about how the stem cells work once they are implanted, TheraVitae spokesman Jay Lenner said in a telephone interview from Bangkok.

They form blood vessels that help bring more blood to the heart. Some of the stem cells could turn into new heart muscle in damaged areas. Or they could act as “beacons” that tell the body where to repair itself.

“No one really knows how they are working, exactly,” Lenner said, “just that they are working.”

Of the more than 100 patients, including about 60 Americans, treated over the past year, at least 80 percent are better off than they were before treatment, and the rest are no worse off, Lenner said.

The procedure was first done in May 2005, by Dr. Amit Patel, director of cardiac stem cell therapies at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, according to information provided on TheraVitae’s Web site, The year-old medical technology is known by the trademark VesCell.

In Rice’s case, the effects of this stem cell therapy were immediate.

“At least initially, the benefit appears to be amazing,” Canaday said. He said Rice’s ejection fraction – a number that tells how well the heart is pumping blood – doubled from about 15 to 30. Typically, an ejection fraction ranges from 55 to 75. Rice maintains his numbers improved from 11 percent to 41 percent.

The cardiologist believes the procedure holds huge promises for the future, but he is concerned about its lack of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I wouldn’t want people spending their life savings, flying off to Bangkok without first doing a lot of research and making sure they really had exhausted every option offered right here,” Canady said.

Similar stem cell therapies are currently undergoing clinical trials in the United States, Lenner said, but “nobody is treating patients privately. Everyone is years away from that happening.”

He said TheraVitae was researching the possibility of using adult stem cells to treat other incurable disorders.

Rice, who is due to have new tests soon, said he is getting around better than he has in years.

“I am walking about a half mile twice a day and not getting tired,” he said recently from Texas, where he is helping a friend with a business venture.

Rice is less cautious than Canaday about endorsing the stem cell therapy.

“I’ve been around a lot of people with bad hearts,” Rice said. “I know if they looked at it, it might save their lives. I firmly believe it saved mine.”