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People suffering from a range of vascular diseases may someday find a treatment in blood-derived stem cells thanks to research currently being undertaken in the UK. The team of researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Kings College London say they have hit upon a way to quickly produce large numbers of stem cells to treat vascular disease.
While the idea of harvesting stem cells from blood is not a new one, the volume of stem cells necessary to treat cardiovascular disease makes traditional harvesting methods impractical. Relying on autologous material would require a skin biopsy or large quantities of donated blood to make treatment possible, according to the researchers.
Their procedure eliminates the need to rely on so much biological material to isolate the stem cells for treatment. With just a small amount of blood, it is possible to produce large quantities of stem cells in a very short amount of time.
The original impetus for their study was to look at induced pluripotent stem cells and how they might be used to treat cardiovascular disease. Along the way, they also came up with a method of genetically altering the cells they created so as to make them useful for generating better endothelial cells.
During the research, the scientists found that activating a particular gene in the stem cells would lead to the generation of new endothelial cells that could then be used to treat certain diseases. Endothelial cells play a key role in protecting the blood vessels.
Unfortunately, there are a range of diseases that damage endothelial cells. Patients with such diseases are more likely to suffer heart attacks, poor circulation, and a range of chronic conditions.
While the scientific explanation of what the researchers did is quite complicated, it can be boiled down to three steps. First, the researchers started by generating induced pluripotent stem cells in the lab. They produced several different kinds of cells and looked for the most favorable properties of each one.
The second step was to grow those cells using a specific biological environment that would encourage replication. Finally, the replicated cells were genetically altered in order to cause them to differentiate into healthy endothelial cells.
The resulting endothelial cells would have been ready for injection into a sick patient had this study gone that far. It did not. Researchers were only looking for a way to create the new cells. Later studies will have to look into using them for actual treatments.
The effects of damaged endothelial cells can be quite profound. For example, the researchers say that 50% of all diabetes patients die from heart attacks. Those heart attacks are directly attributable to damaged endothelial cells. Researchers hope that their treatment changes that for diabetes patients. They hope the treatment will ultimately save patients’ lives.
Like so much of regenerative medicine, this revolutionary stem cell treatment looks at reversing the damage done by cardiovascular disease. It is a treatment that focuses on genuine healing rather than treating symptoms. Let’s hope that further research backs up the results observed here. Any such research could open the door to all sorts of new treatments for cardiovascular conditions.
The power of stem cells to heal the body is both incredible and virtually untapped by human knowledge. Who knows what further research will lead to? We do know that induced pluripotent stem cells can be encouraged to differentiate into healthy endothelial cells in a short amount of time. That is certainly good news all the way around.
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