Much work lies ahead, she said. "We need to do a lot more animal studies to test how these cells behave in different tissues," Bischoff said.
"We have proved that the cells have the ability," Melero-Martin said. "Now we have to see how to implement this in a clinical situation."
A version of the sort of human medical experiment that they envision has already been done by physicians at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Two years ago, they reported a study with 75 people who had heart attacks. Some were given injections of progenitor cells, derived either from bone marrow or blood. Improved heart function was seen in those who got the progenitor cells, the German researchers reported.
The work being done at Harvard could eventually be used to treat a number of conditions in which new blood vessels would help, such as severe wounds, the researchers said.
A current goal is to lessen the time needed to grow blood vessels outside the body, Bischoff said. Extensive growth now is seen after seven days, and the hope is to reduce that to 24 to 48 hours.
"If you have ischemic tissue, it's dying tissue, so the faster you can establish blood flow, the better," she said.
Learn about the procedures currently used to restore blood flow in the heart from the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Juan M. Melero-Martin, Ph.D., research fellow, and Joyce Bischoff, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston; July 18, 2008, Circulation Research: Journal of the American Heart Association
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