LA JOLLA, California – One in every four deaths in the United States is linked to heart disease.
Blocked arteries leave doctors and patients with few options.
But now scientists are looking for a way to grow new arteries, much like a plant grows new roots.
"We are trying to develop a new treatment by making new blood vessels in the tissue," explained Dr. Fangfei Li with the California-based Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.
Imagine: instead of invasive and often complicated surgeries, doctors could use a technique to deliver a special protein to a patient's body first, encouraging new vessels to sprout. Think of them growing like a tree.
"At first, it grows as a stem and then it becomes more branches," said Dr. Li. "Then overall the tissues will be surrounded by branches."
The challenge for researchers has been discovering how to encourage those sprouts to mature and hollow out, allowing blood to flow through without leaking.
TREATMENT: There are different prevention methods and treatment options for clogged arteries. Options include things such as lifestyle changes; eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, exercising regularly, managing stress levels, keeping blood pressure, blood sugars, and cholesterol low. Surgical or interventional procedures may be necessary for treatment and prevent additional plaque buildup. This may include procedures such as; stent placements, bypass surgery, or balloon angioplasty. Medications may be prescribed to control some of the contributing factors to the plaque buildup, including; blood pressure and cholesterol lowering drugs, and aspirin or other blood-thinning drugs.
Vascular biologists Masanobu Komatsu and Fangfei Li say they've identified the protein that will allow the change to happen, allowing blood and oxygen to flow through to damaged areas.
"And if you can supply the fresh blood to the tissue then that definitely will save their life," said Dr. Komatsu.
Researchers say they envision the first treatments will target ischemic tissues in the legs and later the heart.
Eventually this process might be used to treat eye diseases like macular degeneration caused by leaky blood vessels.
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