Researchers Link Stem Cell to Heart Disease
A team of scientists from UC Berkeley has found a possible link between heart disease and a stem cell in blood vessel walls. According to their findings, this cell lies dormant within blood vessels for decades. It is often triggered after many years, leading to artery clogging and hardening. Scientists believe that a more in-depth study of this cell can be the key to preventing heart disease and strokes among millions of aging people.
The findings were a complete surprise to researchers. Traditionally, heart disease has been attributed to muscle cells near blood vessel walls becoming damaged over time. This was believed to eventually lead to the cells reproducing very rapidly and eventually damaging the lining of the vessels.
The new study introduces evidence that shows that is likely not the case. If additional research can corroborate these findings, researchers argue that it will force pharmaceutical companies to change the focus of their medications. New research would be dedicated to treating stem cells rather than preventing the damage of the smooth muscle cells that line blood vessels.
Song Li is a bioengineering professor at UC Berkeley and the lead author of the study. Li said that these cells are harmless while they are dormant. During that period, they account for less than 5% of the total cells in the blood vessels. However, they reproduce very quickly when they are activated and can quickly overtake the blood vessel.
Li said that his new findings don’t show the previous theory to be totally incorrect. They still argue that muscle cells do a substantial amount of damage. However, his findings give an indication as to where those cells come from. They found that the activated stem cells can cause muscle cells to go through a stage of devolution where they became more dangerous. Researchers have previously observed that muscle cells contribute to damage along the blood vessels. Li said their observations were accurate, but no one studied how those muscle cells reached that state.
According to Deepak Srivastava, the director of UCSF’s Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, this gives a brand new perspective on the future of heart disease medications. Srivastava said that researchers have had rather limited success in heart disease. After researching the problem in more depth, they can have a better strategy for preventing and curing heart disease afflicting millions of people throughout the world.