Scientists have discovered a cell mechanism involving the hormone leptin that plays a key role in the formation of new blood vessels. The discovery may help to develop treatments that stimulate tissue repair following a heart attack, as well as treatments that stop abnormal tissue growth, such as in cancer.
A report on the discovery, by researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The finding reveals important new clues about the cell biology of “angiogenesis,” or the generation of new blood vessels, which occurs in both health and disease.
The researchers, including study leader Paolo Madeddu, a professor of experimental cardiovascular medicine at the University of Bristol, believe that their discovery could help to improve treatments for heart attack and cancer, two of the world’s leading causes of death.
For example, heart attacks damage heart muscle, and a better understanding of how to generate new blood vessels could improve regenerative medicine approaches that help the heart to repair itself.
Similarly, in cancer, tumors rely on the formation of new blood vessels to grow, so understanding how this happens could help to develop treatments that block this growth.
Heart disease, the main cause of heart attacks, is the world’s biggest killer. In 2015, an estimated 17.3 million people died from heart disease and the number is expected to exceed 23.6 million by 2030.
Cancer caused approximately 8.8 million deaths worldwide in 2015. The number of new cases, currently estimated at around 14 million per year, is expected to increase by 70 percent over the next 20 years.
The new study investigated how a group of cells called pericytes stimulate the growth of new blood vessels. Pericytes are a type of stem cell found in the walls of blood vessels.
In their report, the researchers note that pericytes are “emerging as promising candidates” for treatments that involve new blood vessel generation.
Studies that have investigated what happens when pericytes are transplanted into tissue that has suffered from insufficient blood supply, or “ischemia,” have already shown that the cells are stimulated by lack of oxygen. However, the molecular process remained unknown.