Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have discovered a new strategy for helping the body make blood vessels in vulnerable or damaged tissue. The approach, which has implications for the treatment of victims of coronary artery disease, involves the use of a protein named fibroblast growth factor 9 (FGF9) to assist the "supporting" cells of new blood vessels as they are formed by the body.

Existing biological strategies of 'therapeutic angiogenesis' that aim to promote the regeneration of the patients own blood vessels have focused on the endothelial or lining cells of the artery wall.

"Unfortunately and despite considerable investigation, therapeutic angiogenesis has not as yet been found to be beneficial to patients with coronary artery disease," says Cardiologist Dr. Geoffrey Pickering, who developed the strategy in collaboration with Mathew Frontini at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "It appears that new blood vessels that form using approaches to date do not last long, and may not have the ability to control the flow of blood into the areas starved of oxygen."

The key innovation of the strategy of Pickering's research group is to pay more attention to the "supporting" cells of the vessel wall. FGF9 has the effect of stimulating the supporting cells in wrapping around the fragile walls of the vessels. The team found that by activating the supporting cells in mice, new vessels did not 'shrivel' and disappear but instead lasted over a year. Another advantage of the new strategy is that the redeveloped vessels were found to be surrounded by smooth muscle cells which enabled them to constrict and relax, ensuring the correct amount of blood and with it, oxygen, get to the tissues which require it so urgently.

With heart attacks and strokes being a leading cause of death, the implications of this research are far reaching.