Boston, Massachusetts (PressExposure) September 15, 2009 -- Most of the clinical displays of coronary artery disease can be treated by new formations of coronary arteries that replace the constricted or occluded coronary vessels, restoring blood flow to the heart. Unfortunately, this has been so far an impossible task. In this study, Dr. Piero Anversa MD, from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and colleagues, have demonstrated that the human heart contains a population of stem cells which has the unique property to form large vessels similar to those commonly affected by atherosclerosis, a disease which can lead to heart attack. These findings are published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of August 17, 2009.
"We have defined this novel class of primitive cells and named them coronary vascular progenitor cells (CVPCs). These cells possess all the fundamental properties of stem cells and are distributed within niches located in the vessel wall of the entire human coronary circulation system," said Anversa, who is director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and a physician in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine Research Laboratories at BWH.
To establish the functional importance of CVPCs, a critical blockage was created in immunosuppressed dogs and human CVPCs were injected in proximity of the constricted artery. One month later, there was an increase in coronary blood flow in the affected myocardium resulting in functional improvement of the heart. Regenerated large, intermediate and small human coronary arteries were found, suggesting that the human heart contains a pool of CVPCs that can be implemented clinically to form a biological bypass in patients with chronic coronary artery disease and ischemic cardiomyopathy.
"This therapeutic strategy could dramatically change the goal of cell therapy for the ischemic heart; prevention of myocardial injury would become the goal of cell therapy rather than the partial restoration of established damage," said Anversa.