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Tissue-Engineered Vascular Grafts May Replace Damaged Blood Vessels

July 19, 2007

Atherosclerotic vascular disease, the progressive narrowing and hardening of the arteries over time, is the number one killer of adults in the United States. A bioengineering researcher in the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Engineering is hoping to reduce that ranking.

Assistant Professor Jian Yang is beginning a two-year, $130,000 study funded by a Beginning Grant-in-Aid Award from the American Heart Association. The purpose of the study, titled “Building Blood Vessels Through Scaffold-sheet Engineering,” is to discover what biomaterials are suitable for blood vessel regeneration and how to fabricate the blood vessels through a tissue engineering approach.

Self-donated and synthetic-material bypass grafts have been used for many years to replace diseased blood vessels. However, no current artificial vascular material has achieved a long-term success when used for small diameter blood vessels. A large number of these grafts fail within months due to acute thrombosis (clotting), thus requiring multiple surgical or coronary angioplasty procedures.

Scientists are trying to find biocompatible materials with well-controlled degradability and mechanical properties for blood vessel regeneration. The study by Dr. Yang will use cells from the patients themselves to seed a biodegradable polymer scaffold, or template. Cells will construct a blood vessel on the template; the template will eventually be absorbed by the body. This process can avoid thrombosis and additional surgery since the polymer template no longer exists.

Finding suitable template materials and graft engineering designs is challenging. The polymer template should mimic the soft, elastic properties of natural blood vessels and the degradation rate of template materials should match the rate of new tissue formation. Cells must be evenly distributed on the template and kept alive by providing sufficient nutrition.

Dr. Yang will address these problems understanding the fundamentals of biomaterial/cell/ blood/tissue interactions to develop a new generation of biodegradable elastic polymers that will eventually lead to new treatments for cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerotic vascular disease.