Researchers develop new cells to treat heart disease

13 October 2014

A team has developed a new technique to boost the body's ability to create blood vessels, which could enable potential new treatments for diseases that can result in amputation and blindness.

The research at the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine aims to develop new therapies for illnesses like peripheral artery disease and other conditions triggered by poor blood circulation, which can lead to skin problems, gangrene and even amputation.

Although the body has cells - endothelial colony-forming cells - designed to repair blood vessels and create new ones, these can lose their ability to proliferate into new blood vessels as patients age or develop diseases, according to Dr Mervin C. Yoder Jr, professor of pediatrics at IU and leader of the research team.

Published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the report states that patients can be given medication to improve blood flow, but if the blood vessels are reduced, this improvement is minimal.

The team said that if "younger," more "enthusiastic" endothelial colony forming cells could be injected into the affected tissues, they might trigger the process of creating new blood vessels. However, gathering such cells would be a challenge as they are relatively difficult to find in adults, especially in those with peripheral arterial disease. Large quantities of these cells are found in umbilical cord blood.

They said a potential therapy could be developed by using patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells, which are normal adult cells that have been "coaxed" using laboratory techniques to revert them to a more primitive version of stem cells. These can produce most types of bodily tissue. 

The researchers developed a novel methodology to mature the induced pluripotent stem cells into cells with the characteristics of the endothelial colony-forming cells, which are present in umbilical cord blood. Those laboratory-created endothelial colony-forming cells were injected into mice, where they were able to proliferate into human blood vessels and restore blood flow to damaged tissues in mouse retinas and limbs.

The research team also overcame another common hurdle as they found that the cord-blood-like endothelial colony-forming cells grown in laboratory tissue culture expanded dramatically, creating 100 million new cells for each original cell in under three months.

"This is one of the first studies using induced pluripotent stem cells that has been able to produce new cells in clinically relevant numbers - enough to enable a clinical trial," Dr Yoder said. The next steps, he said, include reaching an agreement with a facility approved to produce cells for use in human testing. In addition to peripheral artery disease, the researchers are analysing the potential of these cells to treat diseases of the eye and lungs that involve blood flow problems.

Posted by Jeanette Royston​


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