Vascular Repair

A Novel Therapy to Treat Vascular Disease: Helping to Grow New Blood Vessels

When coronary heart disease or peripheral vascular disease strikes, it causes a narrowing of vessels that carry blood to the heart, legs, arms, or internal organs, leading to tissue damage, heart attacks—even limb amputation. "Basically the blood vessels in the affected areas are gone," says Emory associate professor Young-sup Yoon, MD, PhD, Director of Stem Cell Biology. "They are no longer functioning."

Young-sup Yoon, MD, PhD
Young-sup Yoon, MD, PhD

Yoon's lab has been working on using stem cell technology to treat various vascular diseases, and has been developing different bone marrow-derived stem cells—or "progenitor' cells—for vascular repair. In Yoon's most recent discovery, he found that the conventionally known endothelial cell marker, CD31 can be used to identify cells capable of promoting the growth of new blood vessels. Basically, bone marrow-derived or circulating CD31 positive cells give rise to endothelial cells, which line the circulatory system and are vital in blood vessel growth and repair. Furthermore, these cells secrete growth factors that are beneficial to the growth of blood vessels.

Cale Lennon, director of licensing in Emory's Office of Technology Transfer says that Dr. Yoon’s research findings "could provide a commercially viable cell-based therapy for the treatment of vascular diseases, which impact a significant number of individuals."

In a study of mice with ischemic hind limbs, withered from a lack of sufficient blood supply, all of the affected limbs transplanted with CD31 positive cells survived while 80 to 100 percent of the affected limbs transplanted with CD31 negative cells had to be amputated within the same time period.

In Doppler images of nude mice that had hind-limb ischemia, the mice injected with CD31 positive cells into their muscle had greatly enhanced blood flow and repair of the affected hind leg. Two weeks after the cell transplantation, the damaged tissue also showed an increased number of capillaries.

Doppler Perfusion
Doppler Perfusion

As a cardiologist and stem cell biologist, Yoon is particularly excited by the potential of this technology. "CD31 positive cells clearly could be a novel option for the treatment of cardiovascular disease," Yoon says. "In effect, CD31 positive cells help in growing new blood vessels, and repairing or regenerating damaged tissues."

Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of men and women 35 and older in the nation, with nearly a million people a year dying of the disease.

This discovery may have therapeutic potential for treating other ischemic heart and lower extremity diseases, as well, adds Yoon, including cardiomyopathy and peripheral vascular obstructive disease.

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