Researchers have grown new blood vessels using stem cells from bone marrow, a medical advance that could be used to treat patients with diseases such as peripheral artery disease.
It's one of the severe complications often faced by people who've had diabetes for a long time.
Reduced blood flow (ischemia) in their limbs can lead to resting pain, trouble with wound healing and in severe cases, amputation.
During the research, David Hess of the Robarts Research Institute at the university drew human bone marrow and simultaneously isolated three different types of stem cells that co-ordinate together to form new blood vessels. These are called pro-angiogenic stem cells.
They were purified to remove any inflammatory or contaminated cells, and then injected into the circulation of mice, which had one of their leg arteries ligated and removed.
The researchers showed how these stem cells have a natural ability to hone in on the area of ischemia to induce blood vessel repair and improve blood flow.
Hess said that this research is clinically applicable because they studied the function of human stem cells in immune-deficient mice.
The preclinical data from Hess' research was used by a biopharmaceutical company, Aldagen to receive FDA approval for a multi-center clinical trial now underway in Houston, Texas, involving 21 patients with end-stage peripheral artery disease.
"We can select the right stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow and put them back in the area of ischemia to allow these cells to coordinate the formation of new blood vessels." said Hess.
"These principles could be applied not only to ischemic limbs, but to aid in the formation of new blood vessels in ischemic tissue anywhere in the body, for example after a stroke or heart attack," he added.
The research is published in Blood.