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Sunday, 30 September, 2001, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Gene therapy 'grows new blood vessels'
Interior of blood vessel
The aim is increase blood flow into areas starved of supply
Altering a gene could help doctors grow new, healthy, blood vessels in heart patients and diabetics, it is suggested.

Researchers have managed to produce a genetically-altered mouse which has grown large numbers of new blood capillaries in its skin.

However, experts say that major concerns over side-effects would have be allayed before it could be used as a treatment in humans.

A research team from the University of California in San Francisco, found a way to produce mice whose skin cells had high levels of activity of a gene called HIF-1.

Pink-skinned

This gene is known to send commands to several other genes, including one which produces a growth factor important in the formation of new blood vessels.

The genetically modified mice had strikingly different appearances - their skin, because of the high number of blood vessels, was much pinker.

Previous attempts to harness the key growth factor had also led to new blood vessels, but these had not worked properly.

Using HIF-1 did not seem to create any of these problems.

While this is early research, there are a number of diseases which could potentially benefit from a treatment which can safely create new blood vessels to supply specific areas with oxygen.

Heart disease often means that areas of the heart muscle become poorly supplied with blood - this can lead to both painful angina attacks, and to heart attacks.

Heart trouble

If blood vessels could be encouraged to grow to reinforce the supply to the heart muscle, this could drastically improve quality of life.

Patients with peripheral vascular disease and diabetes also have areas of their bodies which become poorly supplied with blood.

In diabetes, this is a frequent complication, and can lead to tissue death, and wounds which either do not heal, or take months to do so.

However, other scientists are concerned that manipulation of HIF-1 might have undesirable side-effects of its own.

Dr Rachel Knott, from the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, told BBC News Online: "We know that HIF-1 sends instructions to several other genes, so there might be knock-on effects of upregulating HIF-1 in this way.

"It's a very exciting finding, but there are always solid caveats that have to be applied."

See also:

30 Apr 99 | Health
Drug starves cancer tumours
19 Apr 00 | Health
Tumours 'grow own blood supply'
26 Oct 00 | Health
Gel ' heals wounds without scars'
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