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Vein Stem Cells Trigger Blood Vessel Growth

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Stem cells extracted from human veins left over from heart bypass surgery can stimulate new blood vessel growth in mice, British researchers say.

"This is the first time that anyone has been able to extract stem cells from sections of vein left over from heart bypass operations," said research leader Professor Paolo Madeddu, of the University of Bristol, BBC News reported. "These cells might make it possible for a person having a bypass to also receive a heart treatment using their body's own stem cells."

In heart bypass surgery, surgeons take a section of vein from somewhere in the body (usually a leg) and use it to replace a blocked or narrowed section of heart artery.

After harvesting the stem cells from a leftover piece of vein, the researchers injected them into the leg muscle of a mouse in which the blood supply had been cut off in order to simulate conditions in a damaged heart. The cells seemed to promote the development of new blood vessels and improve blood flow in the muscle.

The study appears in the journal Circulation.

The research "brings the possibility of 'cell therapy' for damaged hearts one step closer, and importantly, if the chemical messages produced by the cells can be identified, it is possible that drugs could be developed to achieve the same end," said Professor Peter Weissberg, the medical director of the British Heart Foundation, BBC News reported.

The foundation funded the research.