Researchers from London have taken a major step in making the use of artificial veins and arteries in coronary bypass grafts a reality.
They have developed this artificial graft tissue by combining man-made materials with human cells to make it elastic and durable and so it can attach to host tissue.
"Obviously this advance could be a medical breakthrough that saves millions of lives around the world but even more tantalizing is the successful fusing of living cells to nonliving substances that actually-heal-by forming a stronger bond to each other and to host tissue once put in use. This might even be called a start toward 'cyborg engineering,'" said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.
Researchers took an elastic scaffold (the material that gives the artificial graft its shape) of compliant poly(carbonate-urea)urethane and incorporated human vascular smooth muscle cells and epithelial cells from umbilical cords.
Then they took the artificial grafts and simulated blood flow in the laboratory to test their durability.
The research team found that as the pulsing fluid flow slowly increased, the artificial graft's performance actually improved.
The authors hypothesize that this improvement is because the movement of fluid through the graft stimulates the smooth muscle and epithelial cells to release proteins that strengthen their ability to attachment to the elastic scaffold and other tissues.
"The notion that any body part could be engineered in a lab, attach to existing tissue 'naturally,' and grow stronger as it is being used is something thought completely impossible just 20 years ago," Weissmann added.
"It is only a matter of time before human tissues can be engineered to be at least as good as the originals, and this study moves us toward that reality," he added.
The study is published in the June 2008 print issue of The FASEB Journal.