At the Morgridge Institute of Research in Madison, Wisconsin, biologist Jamie Thomson and his team of researchers have been working for many years on the creation of a transplantable artery bank in order to address cardiovascular diseases that remain a major cause of death worldwide.
Thomson and his team have developed a new method for creating smooth muscle tissue cells from stem cells that will enable them to produce fully functional transplantable blood vessels. Having a source of transplantable arteries will save millions of lives every year.
To create these arteries, the group of researchers needs smooth muscle tissue cells – responsible for organ function and movement – and endothelial cells – which instead cover the walls of blood vessels. Stem cells, on the other hand, are essential for the production of specialized muscle cells: thanks to this method, Thomson and his team have no limits in the creation of fully efficient transplant arteries.
There have been other attempts to produce muscle cells from stem cells, but the growth factors used in previous research caused hyperplasia, i.e. the thickening of blood vessel walls and the consequent narrowing of the arteries. The Thomson team, on the other hand, was able to overcome this obstacle thanks to a growth factor known as RepSox, which produces cells that can contract without the risk of hyperplasia.
The research was recently published in the journal Stem Cell Reports and Thomson states that «this work also has implications beyond making blood vessels for transplantation; it’s a sort of stepping stone to more advanced tissue engineering».
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