'Spider style' blood vessel building

By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News


A way of building body parts similar to the way a spider spins its web has been demonstrated by researchers in the UK.

The team at University College London used a constant stream of cells mixed with a polymer to weave the new tissues.

They think the technique could produce better results than other ways of building body parts for transplant.

The team of researchers tested the technique by constructing blood vessels in mice.

There are many methods being used to grow organs in the laboratory.

Some start with a synthetic scaffold which is then seeded with a patient's own cells and implanted. There are some patients who have had new bladders built in this way.

image captionA "living scaffold" made by electrospinning

Another technique has been to take a body part from a dead body, just like an organ transplant, and use a detergent to strip out the native cells leaving a protein scaffold behind. This is then seeded with the target patient's cells. New windpipes have been made through this process.


The team at the University College London are using "electrospinning" technology to produce organs. They think it will overcome some of the challenges of seeding a scaffold by building the cells into the transplant in the first place.

It starts with a broth of cells and polymer. A 10,000 volt electric needle is then used to draw out a fibre.

Dr Suwan Jayasinghe told the BBC: "Like a spider weaves its web we are able to draw out this continuous fibre of polymer and cells and weave a web.

"We could make one as thick as a mattress and the cells will be embedded right through it."

The electrospinning technology has been used to create blood vessels by cross-stitching the fibres on to a rotating cylinder which is half submerged in a liquid to nourish the living cells.

The latest studies published in the journal Small showed mouse blood vessels with three distinct layers could be produced.

Dr Jayasinghe said: "At the moment no technology can make an organ, we are coming up with the process to patch up a defective organ not replace an organ."

The idea is that a patch of heart muscle could improve function after a heart attack.

However, it is early days for the field of electrospinning. In comparison, other methods for producing body parts are already being used in patients.

"There have been some successes in the field which is great, but I don't think it is as easy as some people portray and I don't think we'll have it easy either," Dr Jayasinghe said.

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