Novel approach can engineer blood vessels

Researchers have developed a fast, inexpensive and scalable method for engineering blood vessels from natural tissue.

Researchers from Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, the researchers employed a novel approach to ‘tissue engineering’ blood vessels. By combining multiple materials and fabrication technologies, they developed a method to create blood vessels with complex geometries like native blood vessels [1].

Longevity.Technology: Disease and dysfunction of blood vessels can lead to life-threatening and life-shortening situations like heart attacks, strokes and aneurysms – it is a major cause of global cardiovascular mortality, the world’s biggest killer.

While, bypass surgery is commonly used to replace severely diseased blood vessels, often using synthetic grafts, small diameter blood vessels like the coronary artery, present a trickier problem. Since synthetic grafts can’t be used due to clotting risks, a less critical blood vessel from another part of the body is redirected to restore blood flow to the affected tissue, often adding healthier years to the patient’s life. While bypass surgery is life-saving, limitations arise, especially when suitable donor vessels are lacking due to previous surgeries or health conditions like diabetes. The idea of manufacturing authentic blood vessels could revolutionize treatment for such patients. 

ARC Future Fellow Associate Professor Daniel Heath said researchers around the world have been trying to perfect blood vessel tissue engineering for many years.

“Current methods are slow, require specialised and expensive equipment like bioreactors, and are low throughput – meaning it’s difficult to provide the needed supply of engineered vessels [2],” Heath said.

Speaking of the research, which is published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, Heath said: “By combining multiple materials and fabrication technologies, our method brings us closer to a future where engineered blood vessels will become a transformative solution for cardiovascular disease, especially for those patients who lack suitable donor vessels [3].”

To overcome the limitations presented by non-living synthetic grafts, the researchers investigated developing ’tissue-engineered’ blood vessels, which are made from human cells and tissues. These created vessels have the potential to treat cardiovascular illness, as well as construct built-in blood supply for larger tissue creations – this isn’t currently possible because the tissue would die when implanted into the body.

Professor Andrea O’Connor, Chair in Frontier Medical Solutions at Melbourne, said the research is an exciting step in scientists’ ability to engineer human blood vessels.

“We are now able to rapidly and cheaply manufacture blood vessels using living tissue that has appropriate mechanical properties and mimics the cellular orientation of the inner-most layer of blood vessels,” O’Connor said.

“While the engineered blood vessels are not yet ready for bypass surgery, the findings mark a significant advancement in the field of tissue engineering [3].”