28th October 2014
Blood vessels grown from stem cells in just seven days
Using stem cells from only 25 millilitres of blood, researchers have grown new blood vessels in just seven days – compared to a month for the same process using bone marrow.
Technology for making new tissues from stem cells has taken a huge leap forward. Two tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This breakthrough is reported from Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden and published in the journal EBioMedicine.
Three patients, all young children, were missing a vein that goes from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver. The procedure was planned and carried out by Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson (Professor of Transplantation Biology at Sahlgrenska Academy), and Michael Olausson (Surgeon/Medical Director of the Transplant Centre and Professor at Sahlgrenska Academy).
"We used the stem cells of the patients to grow a new blood vessel that would permit the two organs to collaborate properly," says Michael Olausson.
In developing their new technique, however, they found a way to extract stem cells without taking them from the bone marrow.
"Drilling in the bone marrow is very painful," explains Professor Sumitran-Holgersson. "It occurred to me that there must be a way to obtain the cells from the blood instead."
The fact that the patients were so young fuelled her passion to look for a new approach. The method involved taking 25 millilitres (about 2 tablespoons) of blood, the minimum quantity needed to obtain enough stem cells. Sumitran-Holgersson's idea turned out to surpass her wildest expectations – the extraction procedure worked perfectly the very first time.
"Not only that, but the blood itself accelerated growth of the new vein," she says. "The entire process took only a week, as opposed to a month in the [case of bone marrow]. The blood contains substances that naturally promote growth."
Perhaps in the future, these substances might be exploited more fully, to reduce growth times even further.
So far, the team has treated three patients. Two of the three are still doing well and have veins that are functioning as they should. In the third case, the child is under medical surveillance and the outcome is more uncertain. The team is confident they can make further progress.
"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," says Professor Holgersson. "Our dream is to be able to grow complete organs as a way of overcoming the current shortage from donors."