Friday, January 11, 2013

Stem cell therapy to repair damaged blood vessels

Stem cells have the potential to specialize in all possible tissue types, and are therefore of great interest to scientists that wish to regenerate damaged tissues and organs. Several recent successes saw the development of therapies to repair heart damage by making use of stem cells, but we have also shown capable of creating bone, restore vision or repairing brain injury. There are various other examples of what we can do with stem cells, but most therapies are currently still in development. Another interesting new therapy is making use of stem cells to repair damaged blood vessels: scientists from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute have already shown to be capable of fully restoring a damaged artery.

While repairing blood vessels may not sound as important as, lets say, regenerating the heart, liver or any other organ, a lot of patients suffer from damage in their circulatory system. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other symptoms have rapidly increased in incidence over the last couple of decades, mainly due to an increase in unhealthy lifestyle. Damaged blood vessels can cause myocardial infarctions, stroke and many other life-threatening problems. It is relevant to repair existing damage, as all of our organs need a proper blood supply.

In order to get a functional stem cell therapy, the American scientists first created the right set of cells in the lab. What they needed were the cells that are precursors to the cells that eventually form blood vessels. These precursors are known as epithelial progenitor cells, were created from embryonic stem cells and are programmed to specialize into the inner lining of a blood vessel. This part is normally the first to be damaged in patients with vascular problems. Part of the therapy was to inject the cells in their precursor state into the body, after which they specialize to blood vessel cells where needed.

Obviously, an experimental therapy cannot be tested on humans before first trying it in the lab. For their experiments, the scientists used baboons with damaged blood vessels, something which is supposed to mimic the human situation. By using tissue derived from their arteries, the researchers tried to show that the cells they made were able to heal the damaged blood vessel. And that is exactly what they achieved, paving the way for experiments in live animals. From the experiments it was concluded that only two weeks of incubation is necessary to fully restore an artery. It is likely that actually repairing a vessel in a live animal will take longer. Nevertheless, this may prove to be a functioning therapy for humans with cardiovascular risk.

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