The replacement of damaged vessels by the creation of a “human tissue” of collagen is the challenge faced by a team of The Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (Inserm) researchers. This innovative idea, which still has several steps to go before it can be tested in humans, could be a response to the serious public health problems associated with cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis and stroke cause more than 17 million deaths per year worldwide. What if it were possible to replace the damaged blood vessels of patients with new, laboratory-made vessels? This is the challenge of Inserm researcher Nicolas L’Heureux, whose work focuses on the human extracellular matrix, the structural support of human tissue that involves virtually every cell in the body.
In a study published in peer-reviewed journal Acta Biomaterialia, Nicolas L’Heureux and his colleagues from the department “Tissue Bioengineering” (Inserm/University of Bordeaux) describe how they cultivate human cells in the laboratory to obtain deposits of the extracellular matrix rich in collagen, the structural protein that forms the mechanical scaffolding of the human extracellular matrix. “We have obtained thin but very strong extracellular matrix sheets that can be used as a building material for blood vessel replacements,” explains Nicolas L’Heureux.
Various forms are possible from collagen thread
These sheets were then cut into threads by researchers, similar to the threads that make up the fabric of a garment. “We can weave, knit or weave the resulting yarns into many different shapes. Our main aim is to use these threads to make sets that can replace damaged blood vessels,” adds Nicolas L’Heureux.
These blood vessels, made entirely of biological material, would have the added advantage of being well tolerated by all patients. In fact, collagen does not vary from one individual to another, which means that these vessels should not be considered by the body as foreign bodies to be rejected.
Researchers now hope to refine their techniques for producing these “human textiles” before moving on to animal experiments to confirm the latter hypothesis. If they are conclusive, they can start conducting clinical trials.