The future of artificial blood vessel transplants that grow and adapt with the patient’s body

Imagine a family sitting in a hospital waiting room. The father has been complaining of pain in his left leg and is aware that he is at risk for arthrosclerosis. The doctor joins them with grave news:

“There seems to be a considerable amount of plaque build-up restricting blood flow to your leg.  If we don’t do something, you could be at risk of losing the leg or having the plaque travel else-where, potentially causing a stroke or heart attack.”

The doctor continues to explain the option of a bypass surgery. Unfortunately, thisdoes not seem as appealing as it would on a popular medical T.V. show. The risks and side effects of the surgery seem daunting, particularly because the graft could be rejected by the patient’s body, resulting in repeated surgeries or even death.

Even though modern medicine has made many major advancements in vascular surgery, the field is far from perfecting the art. Current biological transplants will be attacked by your immune system to some degree (unless they are made of your own cells), and artificial transplants tend to lack characteristic features of biological structures – particularly the ability to adapt and change with the dynamic environment of the body.

The promising new solution

One team out of the University of Minnesota is making efforts to address two major problems with artificial blood vessels: transplant rejection and the adaptability of the transplant. Their new technology promises artificial blood vessels that grow with the patient’s body and allows for the patient’s cells to integrate with the artificial vessel.

Currently this team’s technology has shown exciting results in preclinical studies. If they can successfully adapt their new blood vessels for human surgery, many patients needing vascular surgery will avoid unnecessary complications. Particularly, this new technology would prevent the need for repeated surgeries in children with congenital heart defects because the artificial blood vessel can grow with them throughout their lifetime.


The surgical treatment of vascular disease with artificial blood vessels has been a challenging but highly desirable method for many years, inspiring a great deal of research in the field. Until recently, many seemingly promising candidate materials have failed to improve the current standard.

The Biomedical Engineers out of the University of Minnesota bring excitement and hope into the field, having shown their material to be effective in higher order mammals. This means that within a decade or two, individuals who must receive risky vascular surgeries could see higher success rates and better health afterwards. Most importantly, the new transplants could be more permanent than what is available now, avoiding repetition of the surgery throughout a patient’s lifetime.

This is great news for someone in the waiting room, about to be given their options for surgery.

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