Here’s a medical discovery made by cancer researchers that can benefit Funky Hearts, too. Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have recently discovered a protein that controls the growth of new blood vessels. These researchers want to limit blood vessel growth in cancer patients, at least temporarily: if a tumor connects to a blood vessel, it then has access to all the resources it needs to grow. It’s almost like throwing gasoline on a fire.
But for someone with a Congenital Heart Defect it could be useful to encourage blood vessel growth. Everyone is born with a set of Collateral Blood Vessels – these are tiny “extra” blood vessels that are the body’s backup blood delivery system. Normally, they never really have to do anything.
But if you suffer a heart attack (or are born with a Heart Defect) your collaterals can “wake up” and begin to pump blood to the affected heart muscle while avoiding regular blood vessels that are damaged or missing.
Now that we are learning how to slow down or stop blood vessel growth, perhaps we can figure out how to make certain blood vessels grow more. Wouldn’t it be really cool if a doctor could diagnose a heart defect and then take steps to counter it by injecting a localized drug right where it is needed?
The main stumbling block to this idea is the fact that even when they are active, the collaterals are still tiny blood vessels. We’d need a lot of them, and there is really no rhyme or reason in determining where they are located. They grow as needed. Right now we don’t have any visualization equipment that is sensitive enough to find all these extra blood vessels. And surgery of any kind in an area where the location of the blood vessels aren’t known would be pretty risky. There are a lot of obstacles to be overcome before this idea could ever be a reality.
But who knows what the future holds?