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Take Heart: New Stem Cell Study May Help Reduce Risk of Heart Attack

Posted on January 25, 2018

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Researchers at the Morgridge Institute for Research made a surprising discovery while working to improve methods used to grow arterial endothelial cells in the lab: They found a new way to diagnose vascular disease.

Vascular diseases such as coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease contribute to serious or fatal health situations such as heart attack and stroke.

Researchers at the Madison, Wisconsin, foundation made their discovery when testing a new process to create human arterial endothelial cells using cord blood and adult bone marrow.

Arterial endothelial cells line the inside of the arteries and perform several functions vital to the heart and the body, including controlling the passage of proteins and molecules in and out of the vessel. The endothelial cells also help to regulate the body’s immune response by acting as an entry point for leukocyte white blood vessels and initiating the growth of new blood vessels.

The arterial endothelium also recognizes and responds to changes in blood pressure and helps to regulate clotting.

Arterial endothelial cells are hard to grow, but growing them is a necessity, as they play a pivotal role in research efforts seeking better ways to fight heart disease.

The Morgridge Institute researchers discovered another critical function of these specialized cells: They can transition between two different states.

One state is that of a healthy, functioning cell. The other is a state in which the cell becomes damaged. Researchers have connected this second cell state to the hardening of the arteries, a serious health condition also known as arteriosclerosis.

The shift between the two states is known as the endothelial to mesenchymal transition. This transition is known to contribute to an increased risk of congenital heart disease and high blood pressure.

The endothelial to mesenchymal cell transition has connections to fibrosis, a condition that causes excess fibrous connective tissue in the lungs and other vital organs and an enhanced risk of heart attack.

The researchers on the study believe that the endothelial to mesenchymal transition process happens in response to injury or illness and that the function goes awry to return to normal operations.

During the transition, the endothelial cells change from smooth cells in a single layer to star-shaped cells that pile up on each other, contributing to thickened tissue and arterial buildup.

The research team used already known transcription factors to control gene functions. Transcription factors are proteins that control the rate of transcription of genetic information from DNA to RNA.

While working to induce the transition from the healthy cell state to the compromised state, researchers found that their attempt also gave them the ability to regulate arterial endothelial cell growth.

“The ability to regulate the growth of arterial endothelial cells may lead to new treatments to prevent heart disease and repair tissue damaged by heart attack,” said Dr. Joel Singer, a New York stem cell physician.

Singer uses stem cell therapy to treat patients who have suffered damage to heart muscle from a heart attack.

“The heart does not easily repair itself, and in most cases, does not repair itself at all,” Singer said.

Heart tissue that is damaged forces the heart to work harder to move blood through the body.

The accidental discovery of the ability to regulate the endothelial to mesenchymal transition is the second time the Morgridge Institute has made a significant breakthrough in the advancement of heart disease treatment. In 2017, the organization used pluripotent stem cells to create working arterial stem cells in volumes large enough to sustain an arterial bank.

Sources: Morgridge Institute for Research. “New stem cell method sheds light on a telltale sign of heart disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2018.

 

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