A new gel has been developed to treat peripheral artery disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, peripheral artery disease develops when blood vessels slowly narrow and cut off circulation to limbs, especially the legs. The Mayo Clinic added that PAD, as it’s most often called, has a number of accompanying side effects, including numbness and weakness, skin discoloration, delayed growth of hair and nails, and painful cramping. In its advanced stages, PAD can lead to critical limb ischemia. Nonprofit organization Vascular Cures explained that CLI often leads to ulcers, gangrene, and in some cases, amputation. In fact, a 2010 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that CLI patients have a first-year amputation rate of approximately 30 percent. That’s an estimated 230,000 amputations in North America and Europe each year.

A mighty step forward

To better manage both PAD and CLI, a group of scientists have come up with an inventive new treatment option. In a study published in the inaugural edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Basic to Translational Science, a team of bioengineers from the University of California, San Diego unveiled a highly specialized gel that can improve blood flow and help rebuild muscular structures. The gel was originally derived from a pig’s cardiac muscle tissue, which was stripped of cells until all that was left was an extracellular matrix. A 2010 study in the Journal of Cell Science noted that the ECM is responsible for tissue regeneration and regrowth. The San Diego team found that the gel worked wonders with PAD in the rat model.

From there, the team modified the gel, taking new samples from a pig’s skeletal muscle, and used this new formula on laboratory rats for seven weeks. By the end of the trial, the researchers found that the rats’ blood vessels and muscle fibers were similar in size and structure to those of otherwise health specimens. There is still some research being conducted into how the gel prevents PAD and CLI, but scientists believe the gel creates a fibrous scaffold which draws muscle stem cells toward it. From there, those cells help minimize the inflammatory response, which in turn aids muscle development. In an accompanying press release, lead author Karen Christman said this was the first time anyone has treated PAD or CLI with an injectable gel.

In the coming months, Christman and the rest of the team will fine-tune safety protocols and examine other disease models. They hope to have the gel ready for clinical use by 2018.

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