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Stem Cells Tied to Hardened Arteries

Monday, 11 June 2012 11:42 AM

In a discovery that upends conventional medical beliefs, scientists have found a newly identified type of stem cell may be the culprit in heart attacks and other killer vascular diseases tied to hardening of the arteries.
The finding, reported in the journal Nature Communications, challenges doctors’ long-held belief that the smooth muscle cells within blood vessel walls combine with cholesterol and fat to clog the arteries. But the new research, by the University of California-Berkeley, indicates a previously unknown type of stem cell, called a multipotent vascular stem cell, is actually to blame.
The study may point the way for new and possibly more effective future heart disease treatments and artery-hardening conditions, such as atherosclerosis
"For the first time, we are showing evidence that vascular diseases are actually a kind of stem cell disease," said principal investigator Song Li, professor of bioengineering and a researcher at the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. "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."
Although the study was conducted in mice, researchers said it has significant implications for humans as well.
The buildup of artery-clogging plaque stems from the body's immune response to blood vessel damage caused by “bad “cholesterol. Such damage attracts white blood cells and can cause scar tissue that accumulates inside arteries, slowing or stopping blood flow.
Scientists have believed that scar tissue was caused by a buildup of smooth muscle tissues that comprise blood vessels. But Li’s team found stem cells found in blood vessels -- rather than muscle cells -- form the bulk of scar tissue that blocks the flow of blood in the arteries and causes them to harden.
“No one knew that these cells existed in the blood vessel walls because no one looked for them before," said co-researcher Aijun Wang.
"This is groundbreaking and provocative work, as it challenges existing dogma," said Dr. Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease at UC-San Francisco, who provided some of the mouse tissues used by the researchers. "Targeting the vascular stem cells rather than the existing smooth muscle in the vessel wall might be much more effective in treating vascular disease."
Grants from the National Institutes of Health and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine helped fund the study.

© HealthDay

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A newly discovered stem cell may be the real culprit in hardening of the arteries.
Monday, 11 June 2012 11:42 AM
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