Stem cells—the power to repair blood vessels

Researcher investigates how to keep blood flowing through damaged and clogged arteries

Dr. Marjorie Brand’s research might one-day benefit patients who have a blocked or damaged blood vessel.

If a clot blocks blood flow to the leg, the limb will die and need to be amputated. The senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa is investigating a form of stem cells that could create new blood vessels that bypass damaged ones, restoring blood flow and possibly saving the limb. Time is critical when it comes to repairing blood vessels and speeding up the process has become the deeper focus of much of Dr. Brand’s research.

“The idea is to repair blood vessels as fast as possible, so time is really an issue,” said Dr. Brand. “What we do in my lab is try and improve the function of these blood vessel stem cells.” 

In 2004, The Ottawa Hospital established the first stem cell centre in Canada. This new facility attracted the talents of Dr. Brand, originally from France, and her Canadian husband, Dr. Jeffrey Dilworth (who researches muscle stem cells). Dr. Brand’s focus is mainly on the role stem cells play in blood diseases, such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia.

Dr. Brand is also interested in how vascular stem cells are involved in repairing blood vessels. In addition to hematopoietic stem cells that give rise to blood cells, umbilical cord blood contains another type Donate Nowof stem cells called vascular progenitors that promote the growth of new blood vessels. These vascular progenitor cells can multiply and help restore circulation by creating new blood vessels and they are very effective at repairing damaged blood vessels when injected at an injury site. However, these cells are slow to reproduce, and don’t repair the blood vessels fast enough to be effective.

Her team is testing different drugs that have the ability to speed up the process, making this slow process much quicker.

“We injected those cells into mice and could see a stronger speed in remaking these blood vessels—we could restore the blood circulation,” said Dr. Brand.

The possibility of quickly restoring blood circulation holds great hope for patients who suffer a stroke, heart attack, or blocked artery in their leg.  Dr. Brand’s research is leading the way for extraordinary treatment of life-threatening blood clots.

The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for regenerative medicine research like Dr. Brand’s, exploring new treatments for complex diseases and improving the lives of patients.