Researchers at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa are the first in the world to create new blood vessels using embryonic stem cells that were programmed in advance.

The breakthrough cells were cultured in the lab in large amounts – enough to use them for treating cardiovascular diseases in patients.

The team was headed by Prof. Joseph Itskovitz- Eldor, head of the obstetrics/ gynecology department at Rambam and the stem cell lab at the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, together with Dr. Ayelet Dar-Vaknin. An article was published online in the journal Circulation over the weekend.

The research team produced cells called pericytes, which are needed to build blood vessels and to ensure their function.

They were produced during the differentiation of embryonic stem cells using markers characteristic of cell membranes.

When they were injected into mice leg muscles whose blood vessels had been almost fully blocked, the pericytes created new blood vessels and rehabilitated the muscle cells that had been harmed by the inadequate supply of oxygen.

The experiment is equivalent to treatment on harm to other vessels starved for oxygen such as after heart attacks and strokes.

The pericytes were produced from embryos whose source was fertilized eggs donated for research and from adult stem cells.


The stem cells were reprogrammed using genetic manipulations to have characteristics of embryonic stem cells, which can produce any kind of body cells. Since they can be produced from the patient himself, the pericytes are not rejected by the patient’s immune system.

The journal said the results are very important to understanding the process of blood vessel development and treatment when they have been damaged by a halt in blood supply to organs.

Prof. Rafael Beyar, director- general of Rambam and until 2005 dean of the medical faculty, said the research is a “breakthrough with many implications to a large number of fields. The path to implementation in patients is still protracted, but I see it as having huge potential that could be implemented in not too many years away.”

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