Synthetic artery

A team of researchers from UCL has won a £500,000 grant to develop a synthetic artery that mimics a natural artery.

A team of researchers from UCL has won a £500,000 grant to develop a synthetic artery that mimics a natural artery – a development that could revolutionise the treatment of coronary heart disease.

UCL’s Prof Alexander Seifalian and Prof George Hamilton from the Royal Free Hospital and their team will use the Wellcome Trust grant to take their work from the laboratory to a pre-clinical trial.

The team has been developing a nanomaterial with mechanical properties similar to that of human arteries.

The nanomaterial’s inner surface has been modified to attract stem cells from blood circulating inside the body. It then converts these primary cells to endothelial cells – a type of cell that covers the interior of the natural blood vessel and protects it from blockage.

Seifalian, a leading expert in nanotechnology and regenerative medicine, said: ‘Coronary heart disease is a condition where one or more blood vessels of the heart become blocked. This causes the heart muscle to be starved of oxygen, which interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body, leading to infirmity and, if untreated, death.

‘The current treatment of the disease is to create a new route for blood to circulate. This can be done in an operation called bypass surgery, which can either use substitute blood vessels from another part of the patient or a plastic material,’ he added.

Up to 30 per cent of patients cannot supply their own vessels and the plastic vessels currently available are not suitable for the small-diameter vessels in the heart; As a result of this, most surgeons will not use them. The prognosis for the patient under these circumstances is, at best, a reduced quality of life.

‘We have developed an alternative using a new nanocomposite polymer with similar mechanical properties to that of human arteries,’ said Seifalian. ‘The result for the patient will be a synthetic vessel that will function as well as the patient’s own blood vessels, allowing surgeons to successfully operate on patients who cannot donate their own arteries.’

If the nanomaterial performs as well as or better than a natural vessel, it could be used for all patients, removing the need for an additional operation.

Seifalian’s team is working closely with UCL Business (UCLB), which is providing regulatory support to ensure pre-clinical milestones are reached smoothly and the route to clinical trials is as efficient as possible. UCLB is also identifying industry partners to commercialise the technology.

Depending on the success of the pre-clinical trial, the team aims to take its work to clinical trial in early 2011.