The University of British Columbia, via Science Daily, wants us to know that they’ve taken stem cells and used them to grow perfect little blood vessels, just like the ones inside our bodies:
An organoid is a three-dimensional structure grown from stem cells that mimics an organ and can be used to study aspects of that organ in a petri dish.
“Being able to build human blood vessels as organoids from stem cells is a game changer,” said the study’s senior author Josef Penninger, the Canada 150 Research Chair in Functional Genetics, director of the Life Sciences Institute at UBC and founding director of the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA).
“Every single organ in our body is linked with the circulatory system. This could potentially allow researchers to unravel the causes and treatments for a variety of vascular diseases, from Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, wound healing problems, stroke, cancer and, of course, diabetes.”
Diabetes affects an estimated 420 million people worldwide. Many diabetic symptoms are the result of changes in blood vessels that result in impaired blood circulation and oxygen supply of tissues.
Penninger and his colleagues developed a groundbreaking model: three-dimensional human blood vessel organoids grown in a petri dish. These so-called “vascular organoids” can be cultivated using stem cells in the lab, strikingly mimicking the structure and function of real human blood vessels.
When researchers transplanted the blood vessel organoids into mice, they found that they developed into perfectly functional human blood vessels including arteries and capillaries. The discovery illustrates that it is possible to not only engineer blood vessel organoids from human stem cells in a dish, but also to grow a functional human vascular system in another species.
The researchers then exposed the blood vessel organoids to a “diabetic” environment in a petri dish.
“Surprisingly, we could observe a massive expansion of the basement membrane in the vascular organoids,” said Wimmer. “This typical thickening of the basement membrane is strikingly similar to the vascular damage seen in diabetic patients.”