Lab-grown human blood vessels promise breakthroughs in the fight against diabetes
Stemcell researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) havesuccessfully managed to grow human blood vessels in the lab. Thefinding could mark a giant leap forward in the fight against vasculardiseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer, and diabetes by allowingrisk-free experimentation on live human tissue.
Humanembryonic stem cells are typically derivedfrom eggs which have been expressly donated for scientific research.The eggs are artificially fertilized and then allowed to develop intoa primitive embryo over the following four to five days, at whichpoint the cells are harvested. While the ethical considerationsaround this practice are complex, the study of stem cells has a trulyexciting potential for the advancement of modern medicine, withapplications ranging from tissue regeneration in bonesand lungsto the production of unlimited supplies oftransfusion blood.
Intheir latest study, UBC researchers led by Dr. JosefPenningerhave harnessed stem cells once more to grow the organoids(miniaturized precursors) of human blood vessels.
Theorganoids were implanted in mice, where they initially survived at arate of over 95 percent. Astonishingly, over a six-month period, thecells developed into structures that strongly resemble human bloodvessels – including arteries and capillaries – down to themolecular level.
"Beingable to build human blood vessels as organoids from stem cells is agame-changer," said Penninger. "Thiscould potentially allow researchers to unravel the causes andtreatments for a variety of vascular diseases, from Alzheimer'sdisease, cardiovascular diseases, wound healing problems, stroke,cancer and, of course, diabetes."
Diabetes is estimated to affect 420 million people worldwide, and one of its symptoms is a still-unexplained enlargement of the membrane which surrounds the blood vessels. The deformation impairs the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues, increasing the risk of heart attacks, blindness, and kidney failure.
Penningerand team were able to use their technique to study the deteriorationof diabetic blood vessels on live, lab-grown human tissue.
Theresearchers found that none of the current anti-diabetic medicationshad positive effects on these blood vessel defects, but, throughtrial and error, they discovered anenzyme inhibitor that prevented the thickening of blood vesselwalls, suggesting a possible avenue of treatment.
Thestudy is further detailed in the latest edition of the scientificjournal Nature.