March 12, 2004
Bone Marrow Stem Cell Aging Leads To Heart Disease

A form of adult stem cells called endothelial progenitor cells in the blood are inversely correlated with arterial damage that leads to heart disease.

NEW ORLEANS -- Duke University Medical Center researchers have uncovered a strong relationship between the severity of heart disease and the level of endothelial progenitor cells circulating in the bloodstream. This relationship, if confirmed by ongoing studies, could represent an important new diagnostic and therapeutic target for the treatment of coronary artery disease, they said.

These endothelial progenitor cells (EPC) are produced in the bone marrow, and one of their roles is to repair damage to the lining of blood vessels. Duke cardiologists believe that one cause of coronary artery disease is an increasing inability over time of these EPCs to keep up with the damage caused to the arterial lining, or endothelium.

"In our study we found that patients with multi-vessel disease had many fewer EPCs, which supports our hypothesis that these cells play an important role in protecting blood vessels," said cardiologist Geoffrey Kunz, M.D., of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. "If you don't have enough of the cells, the ongoing damage to the endothelium from traditional risk factors occurs faster than the body's ability for repair."

EPC levels are independently correlated with heart disease incidence.

"We found that the patients with multi-vessel disease had significantly lower EPC counts than those without -- 13 CFU vs. 41.7 CFU," Kunz said. "Additionally, for every 10 CFU increase in EPC level, a patient's likelihood for multi-vessel disease declined by 20 percent."

While the EPC levels did not vary significantly by age, gender or other risk factors, the researchers found that the levels were lower for diabetics (19 CFU vs. 36 CFU) and for patients who had suffered a recent heart attack (23 CFU vs. 34 CFU).

"These findings demonstrate a strong inverse relationship between circulating EPCs and coronary artery disease, independent of traditional disease risk factors," Kunz said.

The researchers said that it might ultimately be possible to forestall or even prevent development of atherosclerosis by injecting these cells into patients or by retraining the patient's own stem cells to differentiate into progenitor cells capable of arterial repair.

While the direct clinical use of stem cells as a treatment might be many years off, the researchers said it is likely that strategies currently used to reduce the risks for heart disease -- such as lifestyle modifications and/or different medications -- preserve these rejuvenating cells for a longer period of time, which delays the onset of atherosclerosis.

This latest result in humans illustrates yet again how important it is to develop stem cell therapies to replace aged adult stem cell reservoirs with rejuvenated stem cells. Duke researchers have already successfully shown that replacement bone marrow stem cell therapies reduce the development of atherosclerosis in mice. See my previous post Bone Marrow Stem Cell Aging Key In Atherosclerosis. Also, this latest result is not the first indication that the aging of stem cells in humans is a heart disease risk. See my previous post Aged Blood Stem Cells Indicator For Cardiovascular Disease Risk. These results demonstrate that we do not need to develop a greater understanding of aging in order to start developing rejuvenation therapies. The major challenge now is to develop effective treatments that will repair and replace aged tissue. Research aimed at developing useful stem cell therapies is a key piece of the rejuvenation puzzle.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 March 12 07:59 PM  Aging Reversal

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