Forming New Blood Vessels: Moving Towards Treating Ischemic Disease

by Amanda Chase, PhD
June 21, 2023

The circulatory system, also known as the vascular system, is a sophisticated network of vessels that carry blood through the body. Blood vessels, including arteries, veins, and capillaries, are elastic-like tubes that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues. Crucially, the vascular system is also an important component of our respiratory system, digestive system, temperature control, among others. Vascular disease affects arteries and veins, usually affecting blood flow. Ischemic vascular disease, a leading cause of vascular morbidity and mortality, is when plaque (deposit of fatty substances) builds up inside the blood vessel tubes, restricting normal flow. This has profound implications for organs and other body structures, which can be damaged as a result of decreased or blocked blood flow. Despite the dire need, researchers are still searching for a better therapy for improving ischemic vascular disease, ideally finding a way to grow new vessels to improve blood flow.

In a series of sophisticated experiments, a team of researchers recently presented a novel strategy for rescuing ischemic tissue in patients. Led by first authors Liming Zhao, Andres Lee, and Koki Sasagawa and senior authors Michael Longaker, Patricia Nguyen, and Charles Chan, the team presented their findings in a recent Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology publication.


Overview of strategy to form vessels. Research team showed that co-transplantation of MSC subpopulations VSPC1 and VSPC1, along with critical signal PDGF, could allow vessel formation from adipose tissue for both mice and humans.

It is known that the body has developed ways to decrease ischemia (i.e., improve some blood flow) that results from plaque build-up, although not to a level that meets the needs of the damaged organs. Therefore, there is a compelling thought that perhaps the body’s own vessel-forming cells could be used to rescue ischemic tissue in patients. However, this would require more working knowledge on how the body partially improves blood flow. To address this, the researchers used a mouse model that allowed the ability to trace subpopulations of cells. This allowed them to determine that endogenous mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC; cells from adipose tissue that can differentiate into many different cell types) could form vessels.

They were also able to identify two distinct subpopulations of MSCs that, when co-transplanted, formed functional vessels and effectively revascularized damaged tissue. Further, they found that PDGF is a critical signal involved in cell-to-cell signaling (talking) during the formation of new blood vessels.

In an exciting step, the researchers were also able to identify similar MSC subpopulations in humans, making this an exciting possibility for future therapy for patients with ischemic vascular disease. This suggests a unique potential method for inducing formation of new blood vessels and a treatment for ischemic injury.

Liming Zhao, MD

Patricia Nguyen, MD

Michael Longaker, MD

Charles Chan, PhD