A man-made ‘electronic’ blood vessel that replaces diseased arteries could transform the treatment of heart disease.
The hollow implant, made of plastic mesh and metal and about the width of a straw, is packed with cells capable of growing into healthy endothelial tissue — the kind that makes up blood vessels throughout the body.
Days before being surgically implanted to replace a section of diseased blood vessel, the implant is zapped with a mild electric current. The metal content acts as a conductor, allowing the current to pass through the device.
A man-made ‘electronic’ blood vessel that replaces diseased arteries could transform the treatment of heart disease [File photo]
The current stimulates the dormant stem cells inside the implant to grow and spread, gradually forming healthy new blood vessel tissue around the implant.
(An entirely artificial blood vessel, such as one made of plastic, would be unsuitable, as major blood vessels must be able to expand and contract in response to a change in blood pressure, for example.)
Heart disease occurs when blood vessels become clogged by deposits called plaques. In the UK, around 14,000 people a year undergo coronary artery bypass surgery, where surgeons ‘bypass’ blockages in arteries to the heart, usually with a vein harvested from another part of the body.
But up to a third of patients do not have a suitable vein for grafting, often because the veins are too unstable as a result of disease or ageing. Some patients may instead have angioplasty, where an inflatable balloon is used to clear the blocked artery by ‘squashing’ the plaque before a metal stent is implanted to prop the artery open.
This may not be suitable for patients with several blockages that can only be resolved with major bypass surgery.
In recent years, scientists have developed synthetic arteries that are seeded with stem cells (‘raw’ cells that can grow into different types of tissue) on to some kind of scaffolding material.
But in many cases the stem cells don’t grow into the tissue needed and the implant fails. The new electronic artery could be a solution as using the current starts the cell growth before the implant even goes into the body.
Scientists from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Guangdong, China, and the Institute of Bioengineering in Lausanne, Switzerland, developed the device using three layers of mesh-like plastic sheeting rolled into a tube shape.
Between the layers are thousands of stem cells taken from human umbilical cords discarded after babies’ births. These are known to form endothelial tissue, which not only makes up blood vessels but releases substances to keep blood vessels healthy and clot-free.
The mesh also contains liquid metal called gallium to conduct the electric current. Being liquid, it’s flexible enough to let the implant move with the force of the blood rushing through.
Results published in the science journal Matters showed that when the implant was zapped with bursts of electric current, the number of stem cells more than doubled over the next two weeks, compared to when the cells were left to grow on their own.
The electronic artery is designed to break down inside the body over a period of months and is then flushed out as waste, leaving just healthy new tissue behind.
Martin Cowie, a professor of cardiology at Imperial College London, said: ‘This kind of “intelligent” tissue bioengineering is showing new ways to improve blood supply in heart conditions.
‘It’s a very interesting development but early days. A lot more research is needed.’
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Women who develop pre-eclampsia, the condition that causes high blood pressure in pregnancy, start to develop blocked arteries around five years earlier than those who do not.
Scientists at the University Medical Centre Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, found that deposits in the blood vessels start forming from the age of 45 in women who’ve had pre-eclampsia, compared to the early 50s in women not affected, reported the journal Circulation and Cardiovascular Imaging.
How regular exercise can slow cancer cell growth
Exercising may help slow the growth of cancer cells, say scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who measured the activity of ‘cytotoxic’ T cells — a type of white blood cell that kills cancer cells — in mice.
They found that these cells were more active in those allowed to do exercise than those having little or none.
They also looked at blood samples from eight men after exercise and found the same high levels of activity in the T cells.
They suggest the findings may shed light on how lifestyle impacts our immune system.
Cow placenta extract is as effective as over-the-counter cream containing the drug minoxidil for treating female hair loss, reports the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. Researchers suggest that growth factors in the placenta stimulate development of cells in hair follicles.
Light rays may spot hidden brain injury
A beam of light could help doctors detect traumatic brain injury in patients even before they display symptoms — using just a sample of the patient’s blood.
The technique involves firing light into the blood (put into a special chip) to detect a chemical (biomarker) that is released by brain cells after an injury. The test, which researchers from Birmingham University say is highly accurate, also reveals the severity of the injury.
Currently doctors often rely on making a subjective judgment about whether a patient has a brain injury — for instance, from the patient’s verbal responses.
How what you watch affects your health. This week: Romantic films raise hormone levels
If you want to give your relationship a boost, watch a romantic film together.
Couples watching The Bridges Of Madison County, a romance, experienced a rise in levels of the hormone progesterone — which can improve mood and lower anxiety.
Levels rose by as much as 10 per cent in both genders, according to a study from the University of Michigan in the U.S., while testosterone levels also fell in men.
This combination could encourage emotions which bring couples together, suggested the researchers in the journal Hormones and Behavior in 2004.
If you want to give your relationship a boost, watch a romantic film together
Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage — they contain vitamin K, which may help blood vessel health. A study of 700 older women published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that those who ate more than 45g a day of this type of ‘cruciferous’ veg had a reduced risk of calcium build-up, which can lead to heart attack, in their blood vessels.
The surprising links between diseases. This week: Parasites and PMS
an intriguing 2016 study involving 151 women linked toxoplasma gondii — a parasite carried by cats — to severe pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.
‘Toxoplasma gondii may induce neuroinflammation [inflammation of the brain] and changes in the production of neurotransmitters [chemical messengers],’ explained lead author Dr Cosme Alvarado-Esquivel from Juarez University of Durango State in Mexico.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Medical Research, found that toxoplasma infection is linked to a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, characterised by anger, low self-esteem and feeling out of control. Toxoplasma gondii has previously been linked to other psychiatric disorders.
Bone hormone link with obesity
Scientists believe a hormone produced in our bones could be used to help treat obesity. It is thought the hormone, lipocalin-2, may suppress hunger by giving a sense of fullness.
Researchers at Columbia University in the U.S. made the discovery after analysing data from previous studies which had measured levels of lipocalin-2 before and after meals in people who were a healthy weight, overweight or obese. They found levels were highest in those of a healthy weight after they’d eaten.
A follow-up study on monkeys found those given the hormone ate 21 per cent less than those given a placebo.
Could a salt gargle flush out Covid?
A new trial by Edinburgh University is exploring whether gargling salt water will reduce symptoms of Covid-19.
Volunteers with the infection will use a nasal wash made up of salt and water or simply continue their regular healthcare.
An earlier study looked at the effect on colds and found the technique cut the duration of the cold by nearly two days.
It is suggested the salty water could help immune cells produce hypochlorous acid (the active ingredient in bleach) that can ‘kill off’ bacteria and viruses such as Covid.
Dark chocolate good for kidneys
Could a few squares of dark chocolate a day help tackle chronic kidney disease? That’s the thinking behind a two-month trial with 50 patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition that reduces kidney function and leads to tiredness and swollen ankles.
The patients are being given 40g of dark chocolate daily. Dark chocolate contains compounds called polyphenols, naturally occurring antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory effects.
Scientists at the Federal University of Fluminense in Brazil believe it will reduce the levels of inflammation causing the CKD.