A team of scientists from the University of Gothenburg has managed to grow new veins for a 10-year-old girl using her own stem cells — and, in a medical first, successfully implant them into her body.
The team explain in the Lancet that the girl had a blocked hepatic portal vein — the blood vessel which takes blood away from the gut and to the liver. The condition often results in internal bleeding, and the usual approach is to replace it with a section of healthy vein from elsewhere in the body.
Instead, the Swedish team decided to grow a vein for her using bone marrow stem cells. They took a section of vein from a donor body, stripped it of its cells, then seeded the remaining tube with the girl's stem cells. The result was a 4-inch long vein section.
Since it was used to replace her hepatic portal vein the girl has made a rapid recovery. While the procedure is only now being reported, the surgery occurred over a year ago and, since, she has grown three inches and put on 10 pounds. She now even goes for long walks and does gymnastics. Martin Birchall and George Hamilton, two doctors writing about the procedure in the Lancet, explain:
"The young girl in this report was spared the trauma of having veins harvested from the deep neck or leg with the associated risk of lower limb disorders, and avoided the need for a liver or multivisceral transplantation... [S]he has an improved exercise tolerance and evidence of improved cognition. Thus, in a long-term economic analysis, the substantial price for a one-off, personalised treatment can be justified. However acute pressures on health systems mean that this argument might be impractical in larger numbers of patients."
Because the body often rejects blood vessels that come directly from other patients, the two options are invasive surgery or, now, regenerative medicine like this. Clearly, the second option is better for patient, but it is expensive. If the price can be driven down, there's no reason such techniques shouldn't become common place in the future. [The Lancet via The Guardian]
Image by Spirit-Fire under Creative Commons license