Home blood pressure systemORLANDO, Florida — Abnormalities in a type of cell involved in blood vessel development and healing may explain why adults born prematurely are at increased risk of high blood pressure and other heart alterations, according to research presented Thursday at the American Heart Association’s Council on Hypertension 2016 Scientific Sessions.

Researchers at the University of Montreal compared the function of endothelial colony-forming cells (ECFCs) taken from 30 adults 21-28 years old born preterm (less than 29 weeks gestation) to 30 young adults born at term (37 or more weeks gestation). ECFCs help maintain healthy blood vessels.

Among the findings:

  • Cells from preterm adults were slower to form colonies, a key step in forming new capillaries.
  • Slower colony formation in preterm adults was associated with two heart disease risk factors, a higher systolic (top number) blood pressure and enlargement of the heart’s left pumping chamber.

Abnormal function of ECFCs has also been associated with early complications of preterm birth, including prolonged oxygen therapy exposure and consequent development of lung disease.