Scientists in China and Switzerland have teamed up to produce an implantable medical device that mimics the main functions of blood vessels but companies that go further than their natural counterparts. These electronic blood vessels can be used to promote blood flow, as demonstrated in rabbits, and can also be configured to aid drug delivery, participate in wound healing, and even gene therapy.
For years, scientists have been working on bioengineered blood vessels, which can help us study diseases, treat people with kidney failure, or replace blocked blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease. However, the researchers behind the new study are trying to expand these types of “passive” stents and mechanical support to play an active role in patient recovery.
This electronic blood vessel is made from a cylindrical rod that rolls up the membrane of a metal polymer conductor. These devices are flexible, biodegradable, and contain circuits that can be coordinated with other electronic devices to perform different tasks, such as electronically controlled drug delivery.
In one experiment, scientists showed how to electrically stimulate blood vessels in wound healing models, promoting the proliferation and migration of endothelectocytes arranged on the inner surface of natural blood vessels, suggesting that it can be used to build new tissues. In another lab experiment, the team connected electronic blood vessels to a device that could produce an electric field that would make cells more permeable. This allowed the team to deliver green fluorescent protein DNA to three different types of vascular cells.
The researchers then turned their attention to in vivo research, replacing a key artery in rabbits with electronic blood vessels to provide blood to the brain, neck and face. Scientists monitored the device for three months and reported that it could maintain sufficient blood flow all the time. After the implant was removed, analysis of the rabbit’s internal organs showed no signs of inflammation.
From here, the team hopes to build on these promising early results to further study rabbits to determine the long-term safety of the device. Another consideration is that other electronic devices paired with electronic blood vessels need to be scaled down if the method is to be used in humans.
“In the future, optimization measures will need to be taken to integrate them with minimized devices, such as minimized batteries and built-in control systems, so that all functional components can be fully implanted and even biodegraded in the body.” Lead author Professor Jiang Xingyu, a researcher at Southern University of Science and Technology and China’s National Nanotechnology Center, said.
The study was published in the journal Matter.