Lab-grown blood vessels promise a breakthrough in the fight against diabetes

A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) managed to grow human blood vessels from stem cells in the laboratory. This success could be the start of a giant leap forward in the fight against a host of diseases - notably Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes.

Human embryonic stem cells are usually grown from early-stage embryos donated by volunteers. Eggs are artificially fertilized, after which they are given the opportunity to develop into a primitive embryo within four to five days, from which stem cells are obtained.

UBC researchers led by Dr. Josef Penninger have used stem cells to grow organoids, particularly human blood vessels. The organelles were then implanted in mice. Surprisingly, over the course of six months, cells evolved into structures very much like human blood vessels, including arteries and capillaries, down to the molecular level.

Scientists estimate that today there are up to 420 million people with diabetes in the world, one of the symptoms of which is the still unexplained expansion of the membrane surrounding the blood vessels. Deformation of blood vessels leads to a reduction in the supply of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues, thereby increasing the risk of heart attacks, blindness and kidney failure.

Thanks to studies on vessels grown from stem cells, scientists have stated that none of the existing antidiabetic drugs had a positive effect on these vascular changes. In the end, they were able to find an enzyme inhibitor that prevents the thickening of the walls of blood vessels, suggesting possible treatments.