Pioneering fight against heart disease stems from Cambridge research

Jenny Buckley – Deputy News Editor 5 December 2012

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered a new way to make stem cells which has the potential to treat cardiovascular disease. The new process uses blood taken from the patient to create stable stem cells which cannot be rejected by the body.

During the research scientists took blood cells, called late-outgrowth endothelial progenitor cells (L-EPCs), from healthy individuals and combined them with cells from patients who suffer high blood pressure in the lungs to create new cells which are specific to the individual. L-EPCs are normally used by the body to repair damaged blood vessel walls but, by converting them into stem cells, they can be transfigured into any type of cell and theoretically are able to repair any damaged organ, in this instance the lungs.

Previously stem cells have been created by carrying out a skin biopsy which leaves the patient scarred. The new method, however, is less intrusive and can be carried out from blood samples which have been taken previously. Risks to the patient during treatment are also reduced as medicines can be trialled within the laboratory to see how the body would react to certain drugs before they are prescribed. Another advantage of the procedure is that, as blood can be frozen, it is possible to create stem cells over a period of time without having to subject the patient to multiple biopsies.

The new method for obtaining stem cells is less controversial than the use of embryos and the process is much safer for the patient. There is no risk that their body may reject new organs as their own blood provides the basis for the new tissue.

The research has been led by Dr Amer Rana (pictured above), a lecturer and researcher in Regenerative Medicine, and the results of the study so far have been published in Stem Cells: Translational Medicine.

Jenny Buckley – Deputy News Editor