Bioengineered blood vessels that mimic real vessels move step closer toward clinical use

Researchers have developed bioengineered blood vessels that closely mimic the structure and function of human blood vessels and show promise of being safer and more effective than current grafts made of synthetic materials. Based on results of recent testing, these life-like vessels are now a step closer toward clinical use for kidney disease, heart disease, and other conditions, they say. 

The vessels are grown from smooth muscle cells derived from human tissue donors.  They have already advanced through early-stage clinical trials, where physicians implanted the vessels in 13 patients with end-stage kidney disease. The doctors used the vessels to create a surgical opening to facilitate dialysis procedures.

 In the current study, the researchers analyzed tissue samples taken from these implanted vessels. When first implanted, the vessels—called human acellular vessels—lacked human cells but contained collagen and other proteins.  The researchers showed that the patients’ own cells and blood vessels successfully migrated into the bioengineered vessels and that the patients showed no signs of rejection by their own immune systems.

The researchers are currently finishing up more advanced clinical trials involving the vessels.  They described their findings in Science Translational Medicine.  The bioengineered blood vessels were developed by Humacyte, a biotech company in North Carolina, with funding from NHLBI’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. In addition, the company has received an award from the NHLBI’s Vascular Interventions/Innovations and Therapeutic Advances (VITA) Program to advance the clinical development of its engineered vessels. For more information on this collaboration, read NHLBI’s feature article on this topic.