- Associated Press - Monday, June 27, 2011

For the first time, scientists have given several diabetic patients blood vessels grown in a lab from donated skin cells. The work is a key step toward creating a supply of ready-to-use veins and arteries that could be implanted in dialysis patients, soldiers with damaged limbs, children with heart defects, people having heart bypass surgery and others.

The blood vessels are made by a California company, Cytograft Tissue Engineering Inc. Three dialysis patients in Poland have received them so far, and they are working well two to eight months later. A larger study in Europe is planned.

The research is still in the early stages, but it is considered so promising that the American Heart Association featured it Monday in the first of a new series of webcasts about cutting-edge science.

“This is tremendously exciting” because the need for blood vessels, especially for people undergoing dialysis, is “a huge public health problem,” said Dr. Robert Harrington, clinical research director at Duke University, an expert who had no role in the work.

It also builds on earlier success with more than a dozen patients who were given blood vessels grown in the lab from their own skin _ a process too long and expensive to be practical.

“This version, built from a master donor, is available off the shelf and at a dramatically reduced cost,” estimated at $6,000 to $10,000, said Cytograft’s chief, Todd McAllister.

Growing the vessels does not involve stem cells and therefore is not politically or ethically contentious. Researchers start with a snip of skin, extract cells from it and grow them into sheets of tissue that are rolled up like straws. The goal is to have lots of these vessels stored in various sizes and shapes that doctors can order as needed, just like bandages or any other medical supply.

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Marilynn Marchione can be followed at https://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP.

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