Therapeutic angiogenesis promises to aid the healing and regeneration of tissues suffering from a compromised vascular supply. Ischaemia therapy has so far primarily focused on delivering isolated angiogenic growth factors. The limited success of these strategies in clinical trials, however, is increasingly forcing researchers to recognize the difficulties associated with trying to mimic the angiogenic process, due to its natural complexity. Instead, a new school of thought is gradually emerging, focusing on how to induce angiogenesis at its onset, by utilizing hypoxia, the primary angiogenic stimulus in physiological, as well pathological states. This shift in therapeutic approach is underlined by the realization of the importance of depressed HIF-1 α-mediated gene programming in non-healing ischemic tissues, which could explain their apparent habituation to chronic hypoxic stress and the limited capacity to generate adaptive angiogenesis. Hypoxia-based strategies, then effectively aim to override the habituated angiogenic cellular response, re-start the regenerative process and drive it to completion. Here we make a distinction between those strategies that utilize hypoxia in vitro as a preconditioning tool to optimize the angiogenic potential of tissue/cells before transplantation, vs. strategies that aim to induce hypoxia-induced signaling in vivo, directly, through pharmacological means or gene transfer. We then discuss possible future directions for the field, as it moves into the phase of clinical trials.
Keywords: HIF1 stabilization; Ischaemia; angiogenesis; gene transfer; hypoxia; pre-conditioning; therapy.