Cells within the blood vessels can be turned into stem cells, according an article published online this week in Nature Medicine.
Stem cells can give rise to several cell types, but their usefulness in clinical medicine is still in question. Damian Medici and his colleagues show that cells from the lining of blood vessels can transform into multipotent stem-like cells by a mechanism dependent on the activity of a molecule termed ALK2. ALK2 is a protein mutated in people with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a disease in which bone forms in inappropriate parts of the body, particularly after injury.
The team found that the presence of an activated form of ALK2 in cells from the blood vessels led these cells to acquire stem cell–like properties. These stem-like cells could be converted into bone, cartilage or fat cells, highlighting their potential in tissue engineering.