Trinity Centre of Bioengineering
Supervisor: Dr Bruce Murphy
Grow Your Own Arteries
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. The lifestyles of developed countries continue to promote the prevalence of the disease. Obesity, smoking, unhealthy and unbalanced diets and diabetes are the leading risk factors contributing to the disease.
Arteriosclerosis is responsible for vascular disease. It is the build-up of fatty plaques in the coronary arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes. The treatment for this is coronary artery bypass grafting, which involves open heart surgery. The blocked artery is bypassed with a vein taken from the patient’s own leg and sewn into place, restoring blood flow to the heart.
However, veins are only available in 30% of patients. There exists a clear clinical need for an alternative to vein grafting. My research aims to address this clinical need by using tissue engineering techniques. Tissue engineering involves combining cells with a scaffold structure in order to build a tissue or organ. All biological tissue is composed of cells embedded in a protein matrix. The cells are removed from this matrix and an empty, porous scaffold remains. This process is known as de-cellularisation. My research involves repopulating the scaffold with human cells to create an artery that can be used as a vascular graft.
Pig’s arteries are cheap and readily available. Freshly harvested arteries are taken to the lab, cleaned and cut to length. Three micro-needles are then inserted into the arterial wall. The artery, with the needles in place are put into a chemical solution and agitated for a week to remove all the cells. The solution is changed daily and what remains is an ideal porous scaffold which will not provide any immunogenic response when implanted. Human cells are cultured and prepared for injection. Injection is done through the needles which are already in place. The needles themselves are removed as the cells are injected. This fully repopulates the scaffold with injected cells. The repopulated scaffold is then matured in the lab for eventual use as a vascular graft.
The long-term goal of my research is the manufacture of off-the-shelf arteries that can be customised to patients’ specific dimensions, populated with the patients’ own cells for surgeons to use as vascular grafts.