Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Signs of Age

Using fibroblasts not stem cells as starter cells to grow vessels in the lab maintains characteristics of ageing

10 December 2020

Signs of Age

Old pipes become brittle and leaky, in both your bathroom and body. As we age, our blood vessels gradually thicken and stiffen, contributing to raised blood pressure, heart disease, and other conditions. Studying these changes is tricky, because extracting samples from patients is invasive, and creating fresh vessel cells from stem cells resets all the characteristics of ageing. A recent study uses a new trick to transform fibroblasts – common cells of the connective tissue – into vessel endothelial cells, which line blood vessels (pictured, white), and smooth muscle cells (red), which surround them. This direct reprogramming maintains the molecular markers of age, so by using donor cells from young and old volunteers, the researchers could compare the nature of the vessels at different ages. They discovered genes involved in inflammation and calcification active at different ages, and even tested a promising potential treatment to prevent leakage in older vessels.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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