Scientists at the Centenary Institute have found a mechanism that helps control the development of endothelial cells, which are critical to the regulation of the growth and function of blood vessels, which in turn play a key role in the prevention and treatment of conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Professor Jenny Gamble, Head of the Vascular Biology program at Centenary, hightlights the fact that the process whereby endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) change to mature endothelial cells is an important, but little understood, control.
"If endothelial cell lining is injured or damaged, for example during wound healing, an organ transplant or heart attack, the EPC leave the bone marrow, circulate in the blood and home to the site of the injury where they continue to repair and are induced to become mature cells," she says.
She and her colleagues have found that this process, known as differentiation, is partly controlled by the enzyme sphingosine kinase-1.
"We found that high levels of SK-1 keep the cells as EPCs whereas a decrease in the amount of SK-1 allows the cell to differentiate to functionally mature endothelial cells," say the researchers.
Writing about their work in the journal Blood, the researchers said that understanding the fundamental tools used by the body to heal itself could help manipulate this process to create new treatments.
They point out that the vascular complications of diabetes are attributed, in part, to the decreased numbers and function of EPCs, and that stents are used extensively for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
However they can often be problematic because of a lack of good endothelial cell coverage.
Professor Mathew Vadas, the Executive Director of the Centenary Institute, says that an increased understanding of the process of differentiation may allow SK-1 to be manipulated to drive this process, and therefore improve treatments of these diseases in the future.