DIY heart repair? Biologists turn stem cells in bioengineered arteries

Biologists have developed new methods of using stem cells to produce functional arterial cells that may provide physicians new ways of fighting cardiovascular disease.

The team, from the University of Wisconsin and the Morgridge Institute for Research, published its findings online July 10 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The study describes how scientists have developed methods for generating arterial endothelial cells, which initiate artery development.

“The cardiovascular diseases that kill people mostly affect the arteries, and no one has been able to make those kinds of cells efficiently before,” said Jue Zhang, a Morgridge Institute for Research assistant scientist and lead author. “The key finding here is a way to make arterial endothelial cells more functional and clinically useful.”

The team used single-cell RNA sequencing to identify signaling pathways critical for arterial endothelial cell differentiation, with the researchers finding 40 genes of optimal relevance. They then used CRISPR gene editing technology to create reporter cell lines to monitor arterial differentiation in real time.

“With this technology, you can test the function of these candidate genes and measure what percentage of cells are generating into our target arterial cells,” said Zhang.

Researchers developed a five-point protocol for growth factors, while identifying common factors that inhibit arterial endothelial cell differentiation.

“Our ultimate goal is to apply this improved cell derivation process to the formation of functional arteries that can be used in cardiovascular surgery,” says James Thomson, director of regenerative biology at Morgridge. “This work provides valuable proof that we can eventually get a reliable source for functional arterial endothelial cells and make arteries that perform and behave like the real thing.”