Doctors at the University of Bristol have shown that adult stem cells from "leftovers" of heart bypass operations could potentially be used to treat damaged hearts. Bypass operations involve transplanting a length of the saphenous vein from the leg into a coronary artery, bypassing a blocked or narrowed segment to restore blood flow and thus oxygen to the heart muscle. Surgeons often take longer segments of the leg vein than are used for the actual operation. The Bristol team showed that they could isolate adult stem cells from the leftover bits, and that the cells could stimulate blood vessel growth in mice.

Professor Paolo Madeddu noted:

This is the first time that anyone has been able to extract stem cells from sections of vein left over from heart bypass operations. These cells might make it possible for a person having a bypass to also receive a heart treatment using their bodys own stem cells. We can also multiply these cells in the lab to make millions more stem cells, which could potentially be stored in a bank and used to treat thousands of patients.

The results were published in the journal Circulation.