Scientists at OMRF have identified the function of a special cell that could lead to better treatments for patients with atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is a condition in which cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form plaque that coat the artery lining. Over time, the plaques can grow large enough to obstruct blood flow, or pieces can break off and block a coronary artery, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
One way to treat atherosclerosis is with cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. About 32 million Americans use statins to control their cholesterol, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods, said OMRF scientist Jana Barlic-Dicen, Ph.D.
“Statins can help slow the cholesterol accumulation in the arterial wall and partially reduce the size of plaques, but even then plaques can break off and cause problems,” she said. “What we need is a way to completely regress the plaque buildup and repair the arterial walls.”
In a paper published in the journal Stem Cells, Barlic-Dicen describes research on a type of adult stem cell called an endothelial progenitor cell, which could be used to restore arterial health.
“These are cells which come from adult bone marrow and become endothelial cells—the lining inside blood vessels,” she said.
Using a mouse model, Barlic-Dicen showed that endothelial progenitor cells, when coupled with reduced cholesterol in the blood, help shrink plaques even further.
She plans to continue the research, focusing on how endothelial progenitor cells work with statins, she said. University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center researcher Ming-Hui Zou, M.D., Ph.D., collaborated on the research.
“This is just a first step, but as we learn more about this process, it will bring us closer to finding a more effective treatment for atherosclerosis that can help patients live longer, healthier lives,” she said.
This work was supported by grants from the National Center for Research Resources (5 P20 RR018758-08) and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (8 P20 GM103441-08), part of the National Institutes of Health, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (HR10-099) and the Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research (4340-03-06).