Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Life's Support
19 April 2013

Life's Support

A healthy blood supply is essential to our lives. But before a single drop of blood can flow, cells lining a developing vessel (endothelial cells, pictured here in green with their nuclei stained blue) need to reach out to the surrounding tissue for support. This tiny feat of structural engineering is vital, but difficult to investigate inside the human body. Instead, these endothelial cells have been grown inside a man-made microenvironment – a ‘home-from-home’ recreation of a tissue’s natural chemicals and cells, constructed in a dish. Suitably comfortable, these cells behave as they would in a developing blood vessel, migrating towards deep-tissue cells (bunched-up on the right) that offer firm anchorage and support. Understanding the early stages of vessel formation, known as angiogenesis, might allow pre-emptive treatment of problems during foetal development, but also – as life’s processes often don’t discriminate – to stop new blood vessels developing towards hungry cancers.

Written by John Ankers

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