Nearly 400-thousand 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 new man-made blood vessel could solve those problems.

William Alexander has suffered with kidney failure for 15 years. Dialysis keeps him alive.   William says, "ain't like you can't do it. You've got to have dialysis to live. See this is the one they had."  

But William’s arm, now disfigured tells the story of failed blood vessel grafts used to help clean his blood.  It's a reality Dr. Jeffrey Lawson says most patients face.   He says, "I tell many of my patients they can expect to have a procedure related to dialysis at least once a year."   

Now, a new bioengineered blood vessel using donated human cells could change that.  Researchers say they’ll be able to reduce the number of interventions patients have to have.

At the lab, Dr. Shannon Dahl says donated cells are placed in a bioreactor and cultured for two months.  She says they grow the cells and then put the bioreactor parts together.  Once the vessel is formed, it's cleansed of the donor cells, leaving a collagen structure that the body readily accepts as its own.  

The doctor says the newly grown vessel then becomes the patient’s blood vessel as the body grows into it.   William had the bioengineered vessel placed in his right arm eight months ago.   He says it’s doing good and he’s glad it's doing good. 

Since the bioengineered blood vessel is produced with no living cells, it could become the first off the shelf graft at hospitals, available as soon as a patient needs it.  Within the next year, the technology could be used for patients with peripheral artery disease.


BACKGROUND: 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:

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)


Sarah Avery

Duke Medicine News and Communications

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