Breakthrough in bid to grow blood vessels in the lab

Blood CellsScientists are a step closer to making ‘off the shelf’ veins and arteries which could revolutionise treatment for heart attacks and strokes.

A team at Cambridge University has managed to grow all three main types of cells which make up the walls of a blood vessel.They say the breakthrough could help create blood vessels in the laboratory for surgeons simply to implant into patients – as an alternative to heart bypass treatment and stenting. Bypass surgery circumvents blocked arteries in the heart and body, often using a blood vessel from another part of the patient’s body. Sometimes there is not a suitable blood vessel and doctors can use a synthetic one but these become clogged easily and can cause serious infections

A biotechnology firm in California managed to grow whole blood vessels in a lab for the first time last June and implanted them into three kidney dialysis patients. But the Cambridge team say they are the first to grow multiple types which could have more medical uses

Test tube blood vessels could also be used to treat kidney dialysis patients and leg bypasses, and to fix damaged arteries after accidents for those who might otherwise lose a limb.The researchers used patients’ own skin cells to make different types of vascular smooth muscle cells.

Dr Sanjay Sinha, who worked on the discovery for four years said: ‘This research represents an important step towards being able to generate the right kind of smooth muscle cells to help construct these new blood vessels.

Unlike some previous attempts to build veins the new technique does not need plasma – usually taken from animals which can contain chemicals toxic to humans.Therefore the method has few health risks and a lower likelihood of being rejected by the patient’s body, Dr Sinha said.His team is ‘particularly excited’ about the hope it could offer adults and children with genetic disorders that degenerate the blood vessels.