Healthy living

Scientists a step closer to creating blood vessels

Scientists a step closer to creating blood vessels Potential new treatment for heart disease

Scientists have managed to create three different types of cells which make up the walls of blood vessels.

The team from Cambridge University used cells from patients' skin to generate different types of vascular smooth muscle cells which make blood vessel walls.

The research opens up the possibility of an alternative to conventional stenting and heart bypass treatment. Instead, new blood vessels could be grown in the laboratory and used to bypass patients' blocked blood vessels.

Around one in three of all deaths in the UK is caused by cardiovascular disease. The vast majority of cases are caused by atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries, where the blood vessels become narrowed or blocked with fatty deposits.

The Cambridge scientists discovered a way to make smooth muscle cells using embryonic stem cells or similar cells from a patient's skin sample.

Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) such as these have the potential to be transformed into any cell type in the body. 

The scientists said it is the first time all the major types of vascular smooth muscle cells have been created in a system which could easily be scaled up for mass production.

Dr Sanjay Sinha, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the university, said: "This research represents an important step in being able to generate the right kind of smooth muscle cells to help construct these new blood vessels. 

"Other patients who may benefit from new blood vessels include those with renal failure, who need vascular grafts for dialysis."

Vascular smooth muscle cells originate from different tissues early in embryonic development, and the scientists were able to grow three distinct types of embryonic tissue in the laboratory.

The smooth muscle cells responded differently to vascular disease causing substances, such as growth factors, depending on which embryonic pathway they had come from, suggesting they could also be a valuable research tool in understanding how heart disease develops. 

Dr Sinha said: "Using this system, we can begin to understand how smooth muscle cell origin affects development of vascular disease and why some parts of the vasculature are protected from disease.

"Additionally, there are many patients who have a genetic disorder, such as Marfans Syndrome, that affects their vascular smooth muscle cells and leads to premature death and disability. 

"With this research, and using hPSCs generated from patient skin samples, we will be able to generate smooth muscle cells with the genetic abnormality in a culture dish. 

"This type of ‘disease in a dish’ modelling will allow us to understand the disease better and will allow us to screen for new treatments."

The research was partly funded by the Wellcome Trust and is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

This article was published on Mon 16 January 2012

Image © Dr Sanjay Sinha

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