Cytograft has developed a new technique for creating 'human textiles', blood vessels woven from human donor cells, that are able to withstand the pressure placed on them by the heart.
“There were a lot of doubts in the field that you could make a blood vessel, which is something that needs to resist pressure constantly, 24-7, without any synthetic materials in it,” explains Nicolas L'Heureux, a co-founder and the chief scientific officer of Cytograft Tissue Engineering Inc. “They didn’t think that was possible at all.” But they were wrong.
Cytograft, which L’Heureux and Todd McAllister co-founded in 2000, has indeed developed vessels that are “completely biological, completely human and living, which is the Cadillac of treatments … and it seems to work really well,” L’Heureux says.
('Human Textiles' Woven From Donor Cells)
Today the Cytograft team is deconstructing the sheets of cultured cells into threads and then using a variety of medical-textile-making techniques to weave together blood vessels. Most medical textiles used today are made of permanent synthetic fibers, such as polyester.
“They weave synthetic threads to create patches, for example, for blood vessels … and they can make a large blood-vessel replacement conduit that they use for arterial repair. They can use patches for hernia repair,” L’Heureux explains. “What we are doing here is using a completely biological, completely human – and chemically nonprocessed in any way – fiber from which we can now build all kinds of structures by weaving, knitting, braiding or a combination of techniques.”
L’Heureux says that, once the cell sheets are grown, the weaving of these human textiles into a vessel takes only a couple of days, even with the prototype loom currently in use at the Cytograft lab. And the threads of cells, while more delicate than synthetic fibers, are strong.
“It is not like your grandmother with the little knitting pins,” L’Heureux says. “It is much faster than that. Basically, the time it takes for making the threads and assembling them in a blood vessel is negligible compared to the time that it took you to make the sheet.”
Science fiction writers have been preparing us for this future of artificial medical implants for many years. Larry Niven described artificially grown organs in his 1968 story A Gift from Earth.