DURHAM, North Carolina – Nearly 400,000 Americans are on dialysis for kidney failure. The treatment uses a special machine to filter toxins from the blood and often requires a graft to connect an artery to a vein to speed blood flow. But in many patients, synthetic grafts lead to infection and frequent hospitalizations. Now a first of its kind bio-engineered blood vessel is changing that.
William Alexander has suffered with kidney failure for 15 years. Dialysis keeps him alive.
"[It's not] like you can't do it," Alexander said. "You've got to have dialysis to live."
However, his arm tells the story of failed blood vessel grafts used to help clean his blood.
"It's disfiguring," said Jeffrey Lawson, MD, PhD, Professor of Vascular Surgery and Pathology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
It's a reality Lawson says most patients face.
"I tell many of my patients they can expect to have a procedure related to dialysis at least once a year," Lawson explained.
Now, a new bio-engineered blood vessel using donated human cells could change that.
"We'll be able to reduce the number of interventions they have to have," Lawson said.
At the lab, Dr. Shannon Dahl says donated cells are placed in a bio-reactor and cultured for two months.
"So we're growing the cells and we're putting the bioreactor parts together," said Dahl, Vice-President, Scientific Operations, co-founder, Humacyte, Inc., in Durham.
Once the vessel is formed, it's cleansed of the donor cells, leaving a collagen structure that the body readily accepts as its own.
"It then becomes your blood vessel as your body grows into it, which is very, very exciting," Dahl explained.
Alexander had the bio-engineered vessel placed in his right arm eight months ago.
"I don't have any trouble and it's doing good, and I'm glad it's doing good," Alexander said.
Dialysis is a treatment that does some of the things done by healthy kidneys. It is needed when your own kidneys can no longer take care of your body's needs. You need dialysis when you develop end stage kidney failure --usually by the time you lose about 85 to 90 percent of your kidney function. When your kidneys fail, dialysis keeps your body in balance by: removing waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body; keeping a safe level of certain chemicals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate; and helping to control blood pressure. (Source: kidney.org)
DR. LAWSON: "We've been involved in developing a bioengineered blood vessel really since the late 1990s. It's been very exciting work. The developed tube is intended to be used as a general blood vessel for sort ovascularf replacements anywhere in the body. This past year, we started our first in man clinical trials using this blood vessel and that's been used in a unique application for what's called vascular access for hemodialysis. That is really used as a prototype model for blood vessels in many applications, but this dialysis situation is a safe and easy way to begin to test the new vascular technology. So, we started using these blood vessels in that area. We hope to ultimately someday be able to use these blood vessels in things like the heart and the brain and really throughout the body." (Source: Dr. Lawson)