Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Morgridge Institute for Research have taken the first step toward developing laboratory-made arteries that could eventually be used to help combat heart disease.

Researchers working in the lab of Madison-based stem cell pioneer James Thomson released a study Monday in which they described how they generated cells that could successfully function in arteries and help new arteries form.

“The cardiovascular diseases that kill people mostly affect the arteries,” Jue Zhang, a Morgridge assistant scientist and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “And no one has been able to make those kinds of cells efficiently before.”

The Morgridge Institute is an independent biomedical research institute in Madison that works in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The type of cells that the team produced are relatively easy for stem cell researchers to develop. The challenge has been in developing cells that can perform specific arterial functions related to regulating blood flow and reducing high blood pressure.

By producing the cells, Zhang and the research team showed that it may be possible to one day craft arteries that could be used to treat cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death in the world.

“This work provides valuable proof that we can eventually get a reliable source for functional arterial endothelial cells and make arteries that perform and behave like the real thing,” according to a statement from Thomson, who is the director of regenerative biology at Morgridge and teaches cell and regenerative biology at UW-Madison.

‘Artery banks’

The Madison team’s findings are the culmination of the first year of a seven-year project funded…