A GENE that helps blood vessel networks grow "like a river system" has been identified by scientists.
Experts believe it could lead to new treatments for heart disease and cancer.
The gene, Piezo1, sends a signal allowing new blood vessel tributaries to grow according to blood flow.
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Professor David Beech, from the University of Leeds, said: "Blood vessel networks emerge rather like a river system.
"Piezo1, provides the instructions for sensors that tell the body that blood is flowing correctly and gives the signal to form new vessel structures.
"The gene gives instructions to a protein which forms channels that open in response to mechanical strain from blood flow, allowing tiny electrical charges to enter cells and trigger the changes needed for new vessels to be built."