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Health Beat: New hope for dialysis: Bio-engineered blood vessels

By Melanie Falcon, Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 09 2014 09:22:31 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 09 2014 04:54:25 PM CDT

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.

DURHAM, N.C. -

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."

Alexander's arm tells the story of failed blood vessel grafts used to help clean his blood.

"It's disfiguring," said Dr. Jeffrey Lawson, professor of vascular surgery and pathology at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, adding that it's a reality most patients face. "I tell many of my patients they can expect to have a procedure related to dialysis at least once a year.

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, vice president, scientific operations and co-founder, Humacyte Inc., Durham, said donated cells are placed in a bioreactor and cultured for two months.

"So we're growing the cells and we're putting the bioreactor parts together," Dahl said.

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," said Alexander, one of nearly 400,000 Americans on dialysis for kidney failure.

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