A few years ago, the idea of growing human organs in a petri dish could have incited a laugh. But labs across the world have now given shape to this idea; researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy of the University of Gothenburg have revolutionized the way new tissue can be created with stem cells. In a groundbreaking new study, published in the journal EBioMedicine. they describe growing brand new blood vessels in one week, from just 2 tablespoons of blood.

The main architects behind this new technology are Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson and Michael Olausson from Sahlgrenska Academy. Their first foray into using stem cells to create blood vessels began in 2012, when they grew the vessels and implanted them into two pediatric patients, both of whom were missing the vein connecting the gastrointestinal tract to the liver. In this case, however, the stem cells had to be extracted from bone marrow, a particularly painful procedure.

"Drilling in the bone marrow is very painful," Sumitran-Holgersson said in a statement. "It occurred to me that there must be a way to obtain the cells from the blood instead," and there was. The team extracted just enough stem cells from 25 milliliters of blood, which is about 2 tablespoons. To the surprise of the researchers, their new blood vessel worked perfectly after being implanted into a woman missing the same blood vessel, spanning from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver.

"Not only that, but the blood itself accelerated growth of the new vein," Sumitran-Holgersson said. "The entire process took only a week, as opposed to a month in the first case. The blood contains substances that naturally promote growth." So far, the team has treated three patients, with two of them showing positive signs — the veins are functioning and haven't been rejected by the immune system. The third patient, a small child, is still under observation.

Future Use?

Irregular angiogenesis, in which irregular blood vessels are formed, can cause complications like ischemic chronic wounds (when blood flow is disrupted) or cardiovascular disease, which causes more deaths in America that any other condition. The new stem cell technique enables researchers to produce new blood vessels in a matter of days without painful bone marrow procedures.

"We believe that this technological progress can lead to dissemination of the method for the benefit of additional groups of patients, such as those with varicose veins or myocardial infarction, who need new blood vessels," Holgersson concluded. "Our dream is to be able to grow complete organs as a way of overcoming the current shortage from donors."

Source: Sumitran-Holgersson S, Olausson M, Kuna V, et al, In vivo application of tissue-engineered veins using autologous peripheral whole blood: A proof of concept study, EBioMedicine. 2014.