Five-Year Funding for Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering

A Yale School of Medicine surgeon who is developing techniques to growing replacement blood vessels from a patient’s own cells is recipient of a five-year grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

The $625,000 grant to Christopher Breuer, M.D., assistant professor in the Departments of Surgery and Pediatrics, is for his research to develop tissue-engineered blood vessels for those suffering from serious cardiovascular diseases.

About 35,000 pediatric cardiovascular operations are performed in the U.S. annually. Most operations are performed using bioprosthetic vascular grafts. These are arteries taken from another person and specially processed so that they can be transplanted into the recipient and not be rejected by the body. The durability and longevity of these grafts are limited because the arteries are not alive and therefore cannot remodel or repair themselves over time.

Approximately 75,000 adults undergo bypass surgery for either severe coronary artery disease or peripheral vascular disease. It is estimated that an additional 80,000 patients per year are unable to undergo life or limb saving surgeries due to the inadequacies of currently available blood vessel grafts. The ability to create a tissue engineered vascular graft has the potential to help these patients.

In tissue-engineered blood vessels, cells are taken from a patient and put in an incubator, where they grow and reproduce. Cells are recovered from this culture and placed on a biodegradable synthetic matrix that acts as a three-dimensional scaffold. The matrix is made of polyglycolic acid, the same material used to produce absorbable sutures. The cells on the matrix reproduce and develop into tissue, while the matrix itself gradually degrades over a period of six weeks.

Breuer said his laboratory currently is studying the use of this technology to create vascular grafts for both pediatric and adult cardiovascular operations. Current investigations are evaluating the use of advanced drug delivery technology and genetic engineering methods to optimize graft function.

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