In a breakthrough study, researchers from University of Minnesota have identified the master gene behind blood vessel development.
They hope that the new discovery will lead to improve treatments for heart disease and cancer.
In the genetically engineered mice, researchers were able to identify a protein called Nkx2-5.
This protein turns on a certain gene and determines the fate of a group of cells in a developing embryo.
If we can understand the mechanism, or how certain stem cells choose a particular path, we can alter it to prevent or treat disease, said Daniel Garry, M.D., Ph.D., lead researcher, executive director of the institute, and chief of the cardiovascular division in the Department of Medicine.
This gene discovery provides the key to unlocking the secret of how blood vessels grow, he added.
The researchers knew that certain precursor cells, or progenitor cells, become the three types of cells that make up the cardiovascular system: smooth muscle, endothelial -blood vessel, and cardiac muscle.
By understanding how the cells develop, Garry said they will be able to study how they might modify the gene to create a desired response.
Next we are looking at how we could over-express the gene or knock it down, he added.
The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.