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Researchers Say Stem Cells Cause Blocked Arteries

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA (US), June 6, 2012 — For decades, medical experts have believed that the blocked arteries leading to heart attack and stroke are the result of a deadly combination of cholesterol, fat and the smooth muscle cells within a blood vessel's walls

But a new study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, points the finger at a new suspect — stem cells.

Multipotent vascular stem cells — a previously unknown type of stem cell — should be the focus in the search for new treatments, the scientists report in the June 6 edition of Nature Communications.

"For the first time, we are showing evidence that vascular diseases are actually a kind of stem cell disease," said principal investigator Song Li, professor of bioengineering and a researcher at the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. "This work should revolutionize therapies for vascular diseases because we now know that stem cells rather than smooth muscle cells are the correct therapeutic target."

The finding that a stem cell population contributes to artery-hardening diseases provides a promising new direction for future research, the study authors said.

"This is groundbreaking and provocative work, as it challenges existing dogma," said Dr. Deepak Srivastava, who directs cardiovascular and stem cell research at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, and who provided some of the mouse vascular tissues used by the researchers.

"Targeting the vascular stem cells rather than the existing smooth muscle in the vessel wall might be much more effective in treating vascular disease."

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