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PITTSBURGH (October 1, 2015) … Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), caused by the loss of elastin, a critical protein for blood vessel function, is responsible for approximately 10,000 American deaths every year. Through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, vascular bioengineering researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are proposing a new strategy for delivering therapeutic cells to the diseased cells into order to restore elastin levels and regenerate the aorta.

“Elastin is a highly elastic protein that allows soft tissues in our body – including blood vessels – to stretch and contract, but it is susceptible to the effects of aging, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking,” Dr. Vorp explained. “Therefore, abdominal aortic aneurysms greatly impact the elderly, especially men, and, if left untreated, can ultimately result in structural failure or rupture of the aortic wall and, many times, death.”

According to Dr. Vorp, the research will focus on development and delivery of mesenchymal stem cells to the outside of the aneurysm and will be tested in an established rodent model of the disease. Following treatment, the researchers will study whether the stem cells slow, halt or even reverse the structural degeneration of the AAA. The results could eventually lead to an effective treatment for humans using a patient’s own stem cells.

“Few diseases present greater potential for regenerative cellular therapy than AAA, and the possibility of reconstitution and strengthening of the aorta is very exciting,” Dr. Vorp said. “By delivering stem cells to restore elastin, we can effectively treat a life-threatening disease without complex invasive surgery.”

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