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First Viable Blood Vessels Grown from Stem Cells; Could Pioneer Heart Disease Treatment

The new technique could have real potential to treat patients with heart disease by either injecting the reprogrammed cells into the leg or heart to restore blood flow or grafting an artificially developed vessel into the body to replace blocked or damaged vessels. The treatment could also benefit diabetic patients with poor circulation, preventing leg amputation, the researchers say.

Stem cell therapy to treat heart disease is already being carried out in the clinic using bone marrow cells; however, the long-term effectiveness is minimal and some types of stem cells have the potential to become a tumor after being introduced into the body. This new study, published in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that a new type of partial stem cell developed from fibroblasts can be reprogrammed into vascular cells before going into the body, which have no risk turning into tumors.

The King's team introduced four genes to human fibroblasts in the laboratory to reprogram them into partial stem cells so they could become vascular cells. When the newly created cells were injected into an ischemic leg (one with restricted blood flow) in an animal model, the leg's function improved.

The process of developing vascular cells from skin cells took two weeks, which makes a personalized approach of turning a patient's own skin cells into vascular cells feasible for treating vessel-blocking related diseases. The researchers say the next step is to test this approach in cells from patients with vascular disease.

Qingbo Xu, British Heart Foundation and John Parker Chair at King's College London, was a lead investigator in the study. "Heart disease is the biggest killer in this country," he said, "so if we can develop this approach as personalized treatments for patients with the condition, it will be a significant step forward.

"This is an early study and more research needs to be done into how this approach works in patients, but the aim is to be able to inject reprogrammed cells into areas of restricted blood flow, or even graft an entirely new blood vessel into a patient to treat serious cardiovascular diseases."

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King's College London
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences