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Columbia Missourian

Building better arteries

November 6, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST

MU researcher’s device monitors engineered blood vessels

An MU researcher has created a device to find defects in tissue-engineered blood vessels. Mark Haidekker, an assistant professor of biological engineering, spent two years creating the machine, which reduces the production time and cost of creating these vessels.

It is the first machine of its kind, according to Haidekker.

Tissue loss — for example, the result of a severe burn — and organ failure affect millions of people every year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Typical treatments, including organ transplants and mechanical devices, are costly and can create new problems. Patients run the risk of infection or rejection from the body’s immune system.

These risks are important for patients with arteriosclerosis, or hardened arteries, whose diseased blood vessels must be replaced. Affected arteries in these patients are often replaced with veins from other parts of the body such as the leg, which the body may reject.

Tissue-engineered vessels can be used to repair damaged arteries without having to remove other venous sections of the body. Instead, tissue is taken from a patient during a biopsy and then grown and expanded in a culture, resulting in a complete blood vessel made from the patient’s own cells. This reduces the risk of rejection by the body’s immune system.

Each vessel is grown individually, making it a costly process; each needs to be constantly monitored without breaking the culture. Haidekker’s machine can check vessels in the culture within a few minutes and is relatively inexpensive to make. It monitors the quality of the manufactured tissues and vessels by examining them for defects and alerts the screener to problems such as inadequate cell thickness, keeping defective vessels from being used in a patient.

A cross-section of the vessel is taken with a laser beam. The laser carries information to reconstruct a 3-D image, which is analyzed on a computer. The laser is crucial because “you can’t pick up defects with the naked eye,” Haidekker said.

Using a laser is also cheaper than X-rays and provides greater image quality. The vessel must be rotated and moved to get a complete image, but the process only takes a few minutes to complete. Within the next year, Haidekker hopes to increase the speed of the machine by using a broader beam and a camera system as a detector.

Haidekker has been working with Cytograft Tissue Engineering, a private California company that researches and develops tissue-engineered blood vessels to replace hardened arteries. Haidekker came up with the idea for the machine with Nicholas L’Heureux of Cytograft and hopes to send it to the company when it is fine tuned.

His device currently works on blood vessels, but he sees the potential to examine other tissue-engineered products such as cartilage and tendons. The success of the machine depends on the advancement of the tissue engineering field, he said.

“People are very interested in tissue engineering,” Haidekker said. “But it’s more difficult than expected.”