Lab-Grown Blood Vessels Could Provide Safe Docking Station for Dialysis

By Eliza Strickland | April 28, 2009 10:40 am

dialysisBlood vessels grown from patients’ own skin cells have been used to make the process of dialysis safer and easier for people with failing kidneys, and researchers say the process may one day be used to custom-produce blood vessels for patients with circulatory problems in their hearts or legs [AP].

Kidney patients need frequent dialysis to filter their blood, and that requires a vessel, or shunt, to connect them to dialysis machines. This can be made from their own vessels. But because dialysis is done so regularly, kidney patients often run out of healthy vessels and need an artificial one, often made out of [Gore-Tex]. Those are prone to infection and inflammation [AP].

For the new study, published in The Lancet, researchers took small snips of skin from the backs of ten patients’ hands and extracted two cell types — fibroblasts from the skin which provide the structural backbone of the vein, and endothelial cells to form the lining of the vein [Reuters]. In the lab, those cells were grown into sheets of tissue that were then rolled into tubes measuring about six inches long, which then fused at the seams. Those tubes were essentially new blood vessels. The whole process took between six to nine months.

The new blood vessels were implanted in the arms of the ten patients, all of whom had advanced kidney disease. Three of the patients suffered a failure during the first three months of the trial — a not-unexpected result considering the patients’ risk factors, [lead researcher Todd] McAllister said. Another withdrew from the study and a fifth died of unrelated causes. The rest of the grafts have functioned for as long as 20 months [Los Angeles Times].

Researchers say the new procedure is very promising, and could be useful for a wide range of people with circulation problems. “It’s basically a piece of plumbing to bypass blockages” [AP], says McAllister. For now, cost is the main obstacle to overcome. Growing replacement blood vessels is expected to cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Related Content:
80beats: Researchers Could Grow Replacement Tissue to Patch Broken Hearts
80beats: Researchers Grow a Blood Vessel Network From a Few “Progenitor” Cells

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: diabetes, kidneys
  • Nick

    While this is a cool trick, I have to wonder why they didn’t just do the skin-cell-to-stem-cell trick to grow blood vessels.

  • Michael C

    I don’t think this is as much of a problem as the connection tubes. They put my connectors inside my chest in a big artery which did not block.

    The real problem was the infection (blood poisoning) in those tubes – which are a dead end (no circulation) where the bacteria can hide. They had to be removed. It is so easy to infect these tubes (dialysis operator just moved a magazine with her gloved hand then went back to screwing connections) without really trying.

    Once infected you cannot have dialysis until the blood is clean. You cannot get new connections (for dialysis) until the blood is clean. It would take about a week to rid your blood of a weak infection.

    Luckily, my kidney’s were coming back to life.

  • geeta

    Not sure if this is what Nick above says – isn’t it cheaper to grow the cells of the blood vessel from the patient’s stem cells? I thought stem cells can be grown into any type of cell.
    Don’t they have other artificial material implated in the body – such as heart valves, knee/hip replacements etc/ Do they face the same kind of infection risks?
    I agree that the doctors and other medical assistants do not take the hygeine issue as seriously as they should – I have had a dentist pick up a dropped apparatus from the floor and put it right in my mouth!. They just follow the procedures – use fresh pair of gloves, use anti-infecting agents etc – blindly like a religion, without using reasoning.


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