November 16, 2005 in Nation/World

Blood vessels grown from patient’s skin

Marilynn Marchione Associated Press
 

DALLAS – Two kidney dialysis patients from Argentina have received the world’s first blood vessels grown in a lab dish from snippets of their own skin, a promising step toward helping people with a variety of diseases.

Doctors hope the technique someday will offer a new source of arteries and veins for diabetics with poor circulation and patients of heart bypass or dialysis.

The method doesn’t involve stem cells and therefore is not politically or ethically contentious.

Scientists from Cytograft Tissue Engineering Inc., a San Francisco-area biotechnology company, reported on it Tuesday at an American Heart Association conference.

“We think this is extraordinarily promising,” said Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which has poured $2.5 million into the tiny company’s work. Company officials said they would ask the Food and Drug Administration to allow them to do a study in the United States next year.

People with certain chronic conditions, such as dialysis patients, often run out of healthy vessels.

Growing them involves taking a piece of skin and a vein, less than a quarter-inch square, from the back of the hand. It’s placed in a lab dish and nurtured with growth enhancers that help it produce substances like collagen and elastin, which give tissues their shape and texture.

Two types of tissue are grown: one that forms the tough structure or backbone of the vessel and another that lines it and helps it to function. Sheets of this tissue are produced and then stacked and rolled into vessels 6 to 8 inches long.

This takes six to nine months, but faster development should be possible once ways are found to do the work on a commercial scale, said Nicholas L’Heureux, the company’s chief scientific officer who invented the method.

Still, that means that only patients whose needs are known that far ahead of time could be considered. The focus now is on diabetics who need dialysis, machines to filter wastes from their blood because their failing kidneys no longer can.

To enable dialysis, doctors create a shunt, a kind of short-circuit that connects an artery and vein, which is tapped into three times a week for the procedure. But patients often run out of healthy vessels that can be cut out and moved to form a shunt, and synthetic vessels often don’t last long and can develop complications.

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