The study showed that when the stem cells were placed directly in contact with healthy endothelial cells that line blood vessels, they were less likely to develop into fat cells.
"The key to this discovery was our recent observation that these cells, also known as adipose stromal cells, in fat tissue are in very close contact with endothelial cells in small blood vessels and capillaries," said Keith L. March, M.D., Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the study and director of the Indiana Center for Vascular Biology and Medicine (ICVBM).
"Once we had recognized this link between endothelial and stromal cells, it was a logical step to ask how these cells can influence each other," he added.
With the help of one of nature's building blocks, adipose stem cells, harvested from fat tissues, the research team is looking at ways to treat vascular disease, including the use of adipose stem cells to grow new vessels as a treatment for peripheral artery disease.
"When the adipose stem cells were mixed with endothelial cells, they were less likely to develop into fat cells," said Gangaraju Rajashekhar, Ph.D., lead author of the journal article and a research associate at the Indiana Centre for Vascular Biology and Medicine.
The researchers discovered that endothelial cells released proteins - including Wnt proteins to be precise - that play a significant role in blocking fat cell development.
"Wnt proteins regulate development and differentiation in many tissues and may even play a role in aging," he said.
The findings are reported in the September issue of the journal Stem Cells.