Heart disease often means that areas of the heart muscle become poorly supplied with blood - this can lead to both painful angina attacks, and to heart attacks. If blood vessels could be encouraged to grow to reinforce the supply to the heart muscle, this could drastically improve quality of life. In diabetes, this is a frequent complication, and can lead to tissue death, and wounds which either do not heal, or take months to do so.
Altering a gene could help doctors grow new, healthy, blood vessels in heart patients and diabetics. A research team from the University of California in San Francisco, found a way to produce mice whose skin cells had high levels of activity of a gene called HIF-1.
Researchers have managed to produce a genetically-altered mouse which has grown large numbers of new blood capillaries in its skin. This gene is known to send commands to several other genes, including one which produces a growth factor important in the formation of new blood vessels.
However, other scientists are concerned that manipulation of HIF-1 might have undesirable side-effects of its own. While this is early research, there are a number of diseases which could potentially benefit from a treatment which can safely create new blood vessels to supply specific areas with oxygen.