Blood Vessels Grown in a Lab a Major Step Closer to Reality
Once only a dream, blood vessels engineered in the laboratory are on their way to being a reality. Laura Niklason, M.D., Ph.D., and her team at Duke University Medical Center have developed the technology that one day in the near future could enable a person to give a sample of cells from their arteries or veins and have unlimited amounts of their own blood vessels grown in the laboratory.
This would be life and limb saving for people who need replacement blood vessels, including patients undergoing coronary artery bypass operations (the most commonly performed surgical operation in the U.S.), those needing new blood vessels to bypass blocked leg arteries, and patients undergoing kidney dialysis for whom blood vessels grafts are critical for connection to the dialysis machine.
Preliminary tests of engineered blood vessels in animals (cows and pigs) confirm it is not only possible to create engineered blood vessels in the laboratory, but that these blood vessels mimic natural arteries and veins in many ways. But as Dr. Niklason told journalists at the American Medical Association's Science Reporters Conference in Atlanta, there are major challenges ahead, including finding how to shorten the 8-10 weeks time it takes to grow the tissues, how to make the new blood vessels as strong as natural ones and have them manufacture the same proteins, and to find ways to stimulate blood vessel cells taken from older people so they will grow better than they do now.
Dr. Niklason says when she entered the tissue-engineering field six years ago, people laughed when she said she wanted to grow arteries in a jar. Now, based on the extraordinary advances made in her laboratory and in the field, she predicts using tissue-engineered blood vessels could be part of medical care in 10 to 20 years.
VNR includes soundbites from Laura Niklason, M.D., Ph.D. B-roll includes:
- Blood vessels growing in tissue engineering laboratory
- Dr. Niklason and technicians working in lab
- Coronary bypass surgery
- Patient undergoing kidney dialysis
- Angiogram showing blood flowing through human artery