The Massachusetts General Hospital team used so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) -- which are reprogrammed adult cells with many of the characteristics of embryonic stem cells -- from both healthy adults and people with type 1 diabetes to generate blood vessels on the outer surface of the brain or under the skin of mice.
The study was published online July 15 in the journal PNAS Early Edition.
"The discovery of ways to bring mature cells back to a 'stem-like' state that can differentiate into many different types of tissue has brought enormous potential to the field of cell-based regenerative medicine, but the challenge of deriving functional cells from these iPSCs still remains," study co-senior author Rakesh Jain, director of the Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology at Mass General, said in a hospital news release.
"Our team has developed an efficient method to generate vascular precursor cells from human iPSCs and used them to create networks of engineered blood vessels in living mice," Jain said.
Being able to regenerate or repair blood vessels could be a major advance in the treatment of cardiovascular disease -- the leading cause of death in the United States -- as well as other conditions caused by blood vessel damage, such as the vascular complications of diabetes.
Commenting in the news release, study co-lead author Dr. Rekha Samuel said: "The potential applications of iPSC-generated blood vessels are broad -- from repairing damaged vessels supplying the heart or brain to preventing the need to amputate limbs because of the vascular complication of diabetes." Samuel, formerly with the Steele Laboratory, is now at the Christian Medical College, in Vellore, India.
While the findings of the new study are promising, scientists note that research involving animals often fails to produce similar results in humans.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about vascular diseases.