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A Revolution in Heart Surgery: Scientists Create Artificial Blood Vessels That Grow Normally

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Growing Implants

We have sufficiently advanced medicine to the point that artificial body parts are no longer science fiction. In fact, we may even start 3D printing organs, or have them grown in a lab. However, their artificial nature often means they won’t grow with a patient. For example, children need to undergo repeated surgeries until adulthood to replace implants they have outgrown.

Now, those days may soon be over. Researcher from the University of Minnesota have successfully created artificial blood vessels that will grow and expand as their host grows, like regular blood vessels.

To make their synthetic blood vessels, they first had sheepskin cells placed in a special tube, which is then allowed to grow in a bioreactor. This pumps the cells with all the warmth, exercise and nutrients they need to grow. The resulting vessel-like tubes were then washed with detergent, to remove any of the original cells. What’s left is the tube-shaped protein scaffold that, when implanted, will not be rejected by host body.

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Image source: Syedain, et al./Nature Communications

In their study, the researchers placed the vessels in young lambs, five weeks of age. The host bodies started populating the scaffold with its own cells. At the 50-week mark, the researchers saw, using ultrasound, a 56% increase in diameter in the implants.

Human Trials

“This is the perfect marriage between tissue engineering and regenerative medicine where tissue is grown in the lab and then,… the natural processes of the recipient’s body makes it a living tissue again.” says co-author Professor Robert Tranquillo. The next step is planning for human trials, and the team is coordinating with the FDA for that.

This research is key in making sure that implants are accepted by their host and that the artificial material is able to adapt to the specifics of its host. With these “off-the-shelf” implants, children merely have to under one surgery, and their implants will adjust to their rapid growth. This lowers the risk of developing complications due to surgery.

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