The research could lead to new therapies for illnesses such as peripheral artery disease a painful leg condition caused by poor blood circulation which can lead to skin problems, gangrene and even amputation.

"While the body has cells that specialize in repairing blood vessels and creating new ones, called endothelial colony forming cells, these cells can lose their ability to proliferate into new blood vessels as patients age or develop diseases like peripheral arterial disease," said lead researcher Mervin Yoder Jr from the Indiana University School of Medicine.

If younger, more enthusiastic endothelial colony forming cells could be injected into the affected tissues, they might jump-start the process of creating new blood vessels, the findings showed.

Although these cells are relatively difficult to find in adults, especially in those with peripheral arterial disease, they are present in large numbers in umbilical cord blood.

The researchers said they had developed a potential therapy through the use of patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells, which are normal adult cells that have been 'coaxed' via laboratory techniques into reverting into the more primitive stem cells that can produce most types of bodily tissue.

Those laboratory created endothelial colony forming cells were injected into mice, where they were able to proliferate into blood vessels and restore blood flow to tissues in damaged mouse retinas and limbs.

"This is one of the first studies using induced pluripotent stem cells that has been able to produce new cells in clinically relevant numbers enough to enable a clinical trial," Yoder noted.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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