Researchers have discovered the cellular origin of the tissue scarring caused by organ damage linked to diabetes, lung disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.
Fibrosis is the name given to the accumulation of scar tissue. As a result, patients can develop inflammation and impaired blood and oxygen delivery to the organ. Eventually, fibrosis can lead to organ failure. It is estimated that it contributes to 45 per cent of deaths in the developed world.
A new study, conducted by scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Brigham and Women’s hospital, has revealed that a rare population of stem cells are responsible for secreting proteins that cause scar tissue. Destroying them prevents the complications associated with fibrosis.
The study was led by Benjamin Humphreys, MD, PhD. He said: “Under normal circumstances, myofibroblasts stimulate wound healing, but when there’s an ongoing injury to an organ (eg, the liver of a hepatitis C patients, the heart of a patient with high blood pressure, or the kidney of a patient with diabetes) these proteins clog up normal functioning.”
Diabetes is characterised by a lack of insulin causing elevated blood glucose. Over time, chronic hyperglycemia can cause tissue injury. When the proteins discovered in this study try to heal the tissue, organ damage (another complication of diabetes) prevents this, and scar tissue builds up instead. This fibrosis then causes inflammation and other complications.
The research was published in Cell Stem Cell.

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