Investigator Spotlight

Dr. Gary L. Schaer

A leading cardiologist and a primary investigator on numerous clinical trials, Dr. Gary L. Schaer is one of the many distinguished physicians that have committed their time and resources to the pursuit of research gathered from clinical trials. As adult stem cell therapies will never get to the patients that need them without well-documented, well-performed clinical trials that demonstrate safety and efficacy, SFLF would like to thank Dr. Schaer and his team for their hard work and dedication to the cause.

Dr. Schaer, how do we get more people excited about clinical trials?

People need to realize that most of the great medical achievements in treatment and prevention of heart disease are the result of clinical trials. These trials are an essential part of bringing drug and device advances to patients. They may sound scary, but the public should welcome and be excited about these trials. They prove whether a drug or device is safe and effective before it becomes commercially available. And it’s not just safety that we are studying–clinical trials teach us how to use the product, how much to inject, etc. We wouldn’t have any of this information without clinical trials.

So why don’t all doctors participate in clinical trials?

Clinical trials are complicated to perform and they can be daunting. There are many parties involved besides the doctors and patients, including nurse coordinators, attorneys, finance experts, and IRB (review boards) at the hospitals. The trials are also very expensive with numerous regulatory requirements. Most doctors just don’t have the resources. You have to be at an institution with a supportive infrastructure, and have the passion to take it on.

Where does your passion for science come from?

My specific interest in regenerative medicine began with an inspiring high school biology teacher. He taught us the biology of salamander limb regeneration, and I was fascinated. Salamanders are amphibians, and if they were to lose a limb, they can regenerate that limb. Their bodies have a mechanism where stem cells accumulate at the stump of the lost limb and that mass of stem cells develops into a fully functional new limb. The process is similar to developing a limb in a fetus. I continued studying salamander limb regeneration on a more advanced level in college, and these experiences kindled my interest in regenerative medicine.

As a cardiologist, I have spent more than a decade researching ways that regenerative principles can be
applied to the treatment of heart disease. I have been involved in several pivotal clinical trials that use various biological therapies to treat heart diseases.

How do patients react when you explain to them what an adult stem cell therapy is?

We get quite a range of reactions. I practice at an inner city university hospital with a great diversity of ethnicity, race and income, and a wide range of knowledge (or lack thereof) about stem cells. Some people approach me with the expectation that they will receive the stem cell treatment. They are surprised that there is a chance they could receive a placebo and they refuse to participate for this reason. Occasionally, patients travel to Mexico or Thailand to be sure they will receive an active stem cell treatment. I have emphasized that those therapies have not been proven to be safe or effective and strongly advise against this approach. Some people have no interest in being part of a research study where the play of chance will determine the treatment. But for many patients and their families, they agree to participate if the trial is recommended by their physicians. If a patient has a good relationship with their doctor, they are often more receptive to learn more about a clinical trial.

What can people do to inspire others to learn more about adult stem cell therapies?

Sharing individual patient stories can be very influential. Hearing about a patient who was on at death’s door after a large heart attack and improved dramatically after treatment in a clinical trial of a stem cell therapy is so powerful, even with the understanding that receiving a placebo is a possibility.

How will adult stem cell therapies change the face of medicine?

The therapeutic potential of adult stem cells is substantial. The body can create everything it needs. The instructions for tissue repair and regeneration is written in our DNA, and we need to understand how these processes are controlled to unleash the therapeutic potential. I am confident that our current and future efforts will bear fruit over the next 10 to 20 years, yielding safe and effective cell based treatment for a variety of heart and vascular diseases. Indeed, these treatments will likely be the standard practice of the future.

Primary Investigators in clinical trials are responsible for personally conducting or supervising
the conduct of humansubjects research and for protecting the rights and safety of the patients.

About Dr. Schaer

Dr. Gary L. Schaer is Professor of Medicine and Director of Cardiac Research and Strategic Development at Rush University Medical Center. He is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine and was a medical resident at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Schaer’s research has focused on new interventional, drug and biological therapies for patients with ischemic heart disease, with a special focus on regenerative medicine.