DIY blood vessels could revolutionise heart surgery

Human blood vessels have been grown in a laboratory for the first time and this could revolutionise heart surgery. The new vessels can be stored for up to a year before being safely transplanted into any patient.

Researchers have previously been able to create blood vessels from a patient’s own cells, however this process takes at least nine months and patients typically cannot wait this long. This new procedure involves the vessels being made in advance using random donor muscle tissue. Collagen is grown on a biodegradable tube made from a polymer and once the mesh tube breaks down a fully formed tubular blood vessel is left. This is then washed with detergent to remove any donor cells, which reduces the risk of rejection.

Tests carried out on the replacement blood vessels after six months showed no sign of clogging or thickening, indicating their strength and elasticity. They even remained unclogged after being tested in a salt solution for a year.

28,000 Britons have a coronary bypass operation each year with approximately 12 per cent of the British population being diagnosed with heart or coronary disorders.

Currently inserting a patient’s own vein remains the norm, however this can lead to complications and in some cases patients do not have suitable veins. Where no suitable vessel is available a synthetic version is used, however this has an increased risk of infection or blockage.

Although further research is required the initial encouraging results suggest that this new technique may meet the need for a functionally superior, off the shelf blood vessel which can reduce the number of complications during operations.

For further information on heart disease Professor Avijit Lahiri, founder of the Cardiac Imaging and Research Centre, has written an excellent article on Diagnosing and Treating Heart Disease.

A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
A condition that is linked to, or is a consequence of, another disease or procedure. Full medical glossary
Relating to the arteries supplying the heart itself. Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary
Tissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. Full medical glossary
A craving to eat non-food substances such as earth or coal. Full medical glossary
A group of cells with a similar structure and a specialised function. Full medical glossary
A blood vessel that carries blood towards the heart. Full medical glossary