Valvular and Vascular Repair and Regeneration

To treat cardiovascular diseases, clinicians and researchers are developing biological heart valves, identifying new stem cells, and finding ways to enhance blood vessel growth and repair.

Medication and surgery, which today are used to treat cardiovascular diseases such as valvular heart disease, peripheral artery disease and ischemic vascular disease, can often sufficiently manage patients' symptoms.

But as is the case with other complex conditions, even patients who receive the best available treatments are at risk of future complications, so there is a significant need for new regenerative therapies that treat the underlying sources of cardiovascular diseases.

Focus areas

Center for Regenerative Biotherapeutics clinicians and researchers led by Amir Lerman, M.D., of Mayo Clinic's campus in Rochester, Minnesota, are creating biological heart valves, identifying new stem cells, and developing ways to enhance blood vessel growth and repair.

Autologous biological heart valves

People with valvular heart disease may require surgery to repair or replace the damaged heart valve. While many mechanical and biological replacement options exist today, each has its drawbacks.

Center for Regenerative Biotherapeutics researchers plan to develop biological heart valves using a patient's own cells. After cells are removed from a donor heart — a process called decellularization — the cell-free tissue scaffold that remains would be populated with adult progenitor cells or induced pluripotent stem cells derived from the patient's cells.

These specially engineered cells would regrow within the scaffold, creating a new, patient-specific heart valve that would replace the damaged valve, providing a living alternative to existing biological valve options.

Cardiovascular stem cell therapy

Revascularization procedures are one option for restoring blood flow in people with ischemic heart disease and peripheral artery disease. In cases where revascularization is not possible or advisable, researchers are studying how stem cell therapy might be used to repair injured muscle or stimulate blood vessel growth (angiogenesis).

Coronary microvascular disease

More than 30 percent of patients undergoing coronary angiography have chest pain and nonobstructive coronary artery disease, and the majority of this subset are women. These patients usually have microvascular disease and endothelial dysfunction and experience a higher rate of cardiovascular events and repeat procedures.

There is currently no gold standard therapy for these patients. Center for Regenerative Biotherapeutics researchers are initiating clinical study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, addressing the effect of the administration of progenitor cells for these patients.

Vascular progenitor cells

Blood vessels are often perceived as simple conduits or pipes through which blood flows. Recently, it was discovered that blood vessels can make blood. Within the vessel wall, stem and progenitor cells were identified that have the capacity to generate white and red blood cells in adults.

The identification of these progenitor cells opens new avenues of research, such as better understanding of their role in disease and determining if they can be targeted to prevent disorders such as atherosclerosis and aneurysm formation.