Scientists say they have successfully tested artificial blood vessels grown in the laboratory.
In a heart bypass operation, surgeons typically remove a vein from a patient's leg and use it to replace blocked arteries that feed the muscles of the heart. But what if, instead of cutting open the patient's leg, the surgeon used an artificial blood vessel that has been sitting in a hospital refrigerator? The new research suggests that day may soon come.
The artificial blood vessels are made by coating a biodegradable, plastic mesh tube with human or animal muscle cells. The cells produce a protein structure shaped like the plastic tube, which dissolves.
Shannon Dahl is co-founder of Humacyte, the North Carolina company that developed the artificial blood vessel. She explains that the next step is washing away the original muscle cells.
"So that what we're left with - the bioengineered vein - is just the proteins that the cell secreted. This protein structure, the bioengineered vein, can be used in any human patient because the immunogenic part, the cells, have been removed," Dahl says.
The material is considered immunogenic since the protein structure won't be recognized by the recipient as foreign material.
The artificial grafts resist bursting and tearing in lab tests, but the real question is how they perform when used on an actual patient.