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.