What if we could replace a patient's damaged blood vessels with brand new ones produced in a laboratory? This is the challenge set by Inserm researcher Nicolas L'Heureux, who is working on the human extracellular matrix - the structural support of human tissues that is found around practically all of the body's cells.
In a study published in Acta Biomaterialia, L'Heureux and his colleagues at the Tissue Bioengineering unit (Inserm/Université de Bordeaux) describe how they have cultivated human cells in the laboratory to obtain extracellular matrix deposits high in collagen - a structural protein that constitutes the mechanical scaffold of the human extracellular matrix. "We have obtained thin but highly robust extracellular matrix sheets that can be used as a construction material to replace blood vessels", L'Heureux explains.
The researchers then cut these sheets to form yarn - a bit like that used to make fabric for clothing. "The resulting yarn can be woven, knitted or braided into various forms. Our main objective is to use this yarn to make assemblies which can replace the damaged blood vessels", adds L'Heureux.
Made entirely from biological material, these blood vessels would also have the advantage of being well-tolerated by all patients. Given that collagen does not vary from individual to individual, it is not expected that the body will consider these vessels as foreign bodies that need to be rejected.
The researchers would now like to refine their techniques used to produce these "human textiles" before moving on to animal testing, in order to validate this last hypothesis. If these are conclusive, this could lead to clinical trials.