Growing new blood vessels in the lab is a tough challenge, but a team of Johns Hopkins engineers has solved a major stumbling block: how to prod stem cells to become two different types of tissue that are needed to build tiny networks of veins and arteries.
The team’s solution is detailed in the January 2013 edition of Cardiovascular Research. The work is important because networks of new blood vessels could one day be assembled in a lab and transplanted into patients whose circulatory systems have been damaged by heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.
The research team led by Sharon Gerecht, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, focused on vascular smooth muscle cells within the walls of blood vessels. Two cell types have been identified: synthetic smooth muscle cells, which migrate through the surrounding tissue, continue to divide, and help support the newly formed blood vessels; and contractile smooth muscles cells, which remain in place, stabilize the growth of new blood vessels and help them maintain proper blood pressure.
“We still have a lot more research to do before we can build complete new blood vessel networks in the lab,” Gerecht said, “but our progress in controlling the fate of these stem cells appears to be a big step in the right direction.” The lead author of the new Cardiovascular Research paper is Maureen Wanjare, a doctoral student in Gerecht’s lab who is supported both by the university’s Institute for NanoBioTechnolgy (INBT), through a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, and by the National Institutes of Health. Coauthors of the study are Gerecht and Frederick Kuo, a senior majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering.