Researchers at University of Utah have taken a potentially powerful new therapy for treating diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and other illnesses out of the test tube and into animals by demonstrating it restores nerve and blood vessel growth in mice.
The therapy involves netrins, a family of proteins that promotes nerve development. In a study, the Utah researchers and colleagues from other universities showed netrins not only accelerated blood vessel growth in ischemic mice but they also restored blood vessel and nerve growth in diabetic mice.
" We now have a (growth) factor that attracts both blood vessels and nerves--that's why it's unique for diabetes," Dean Li at University's School of Medicine said. " This demonstrates that netrins are critical for development and may be important as a new therapy."
Researchers from the University of Utah and Stanford already had shown Netrin-1, a member of the netrins family, promotes blood vessel growth in laboratory cultures. But, until now, it had not been demonstrated that netrins work in animals.
The researchers tested netrins and vascular endothelial growth factor ( VEGF ), a gene-based therapy in Phase 2 clinical trials, in mice. They used the same method to inject netrins and VEGF. In the mice whose blood circulation was decreased by peripheral vascular disease, the researchers found netrins and VEGF promoted blood vessel growth equally well. But in the diabetic mice, netrins proved markedly better at promoting blood vessel and nerve growth than VEGF.
Already in Phase 2 clinical trials, VEGF may be available as a therapeutic gene therapy within five years. Gene therapy requires expertise that is available in only a few medical centers. The hope is that netrins could be more effective and may not have to be delivered as a gene therapy, making it available to a much larger group of patients, according to Li.
Source: University of Utah Health Sciences Center, 2006
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