Newly discovered blood vessel stem cells point to new therapies for vascular disease

One of the top suspects behind killer vascular diseases is the victim of mistaken identity, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, who used genetic tracing to help hunt down the real culprit.

So begins a press release from UC Berkeley about the true cellular culprit behind vascular disease.

Scientists had long thought that the smooth muscles making up the vessel walls combined with cholesterol and fat to clog arteries. But no. CIRM-funded researchers found that a type of stem cell in the vessel walls are responsible for vascular disease. Blocked vessels can lead to heart attacks and stroke, which together account for one in three deaths in the U.S.

The Berkeley release quotes senior author Song Li:

“For the first time, we are showing evidence that vascular diseases are actually a kind of stem cell disease. 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 study, which was published June 6 in the journal Nature Communications, included two researchers who were part of Berkeley’s CIRM-funded training program. They describe finding the new type of stem cell and show that when the vessels are damaged, those stem cells multiply. They suggest that new therapies for vascular disease should focus on reigning in those newly discovered stem cells.

CIRM Funding: Zhenyu Tang, Aijun Wang (TG2-01164)
Nature Communications, June 6, 2012


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