Professor Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, had an easy-to-understand motivation when she started investigating a better way to grow replacement blood vessels. She wanted to save sick children some pain.
Sumitran-Holgersson, Professor of Transplantation Biology at Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg, Sweden, had young patients who were missing the vein to connect their livers to their gastrointestinal tract. Her team had built that vein before from stem cells for another patient. Unfortunately, that process required getting bone marrow to get the cells, which causes a lot of pain for the patient.
“Drilling in the bone marrow is very painful,” she says. “It occurred to me that there must be a way to obtain the cells from the blood instead.”
She and her colleague Michael Olausson, Surgeon/Medical Director of the Transplant Center and Professor at Sahlgrenska Academy found that she was more right that she could have imagined. Together they developed a technique that allows new vessels to be grown from the stem cells in just two tablespoons of blood in less than a week.
It turns out that stem cells in blood are are readily coaxed into growing blood vessels, and the procedure worked on the first go.
“Not only that, but the blood itself accelerated growth of the new vein,” Professor Sumitran-Holgersson says. “The entire process took only a week, as opposed to a month in the first case. The blood contains substances that naturally promote growth.”
Two of the three patients the team has given new vessels are doing well, although a third is under medical surveillance and the outcome is less certain. The pair recently published their new process, and believe it has the potential to make such procedures easier and more widespread and might help lead to even more advanced new replacement parts being grown in the future.
“We believe that this technological progress can lead to dissemination of the method for the benefit of additional groups of patients, such as those with varicose veins or myocardial infarction, who need new blood vessels,” Professor Sumitran-Holgersson said. “Our dream is to be able to grow complete organs as a way of overcoming the current shortage from donors.”
[Source: University of Gothenburg]
Image credit Robert Emilsson