Five days later, the researchers found evidence in the transplanted hearts that new blood vessels may have been about to grow: stem cells -- cells that normally precede blood vessel growth -- had begun to colonize the tunnels.
The findings point the way to a possible new therapy for heart attack victims that will help them regenerate blood vessels and keep damaged tissue alive, Moldovan said. "If we could create similar tunnels in heart tissue -- with or without monocytes' contribution -- we might be able to stimulate capillary formation," he said.
He did admit, however, that this project is in its infancy. He and his colleagues will have to overcome many obstacles to find a practical way to grow functioning blood vessels, based on this new principle, he said. The question of whether the tunnels themselves improve heart function remains as well.
Moldovan and his colleagues are also exploring means for growing blood vessels outside the body and then implanting them in the tunnels in the heart tissue.