Modern medicine routinely performs miracles, swapping body parts and connecting machines to assist with essential functions when the patient’s body can’t perform them on its own. But there are limitations. For example, consider procedures that involve blood circulation. Heart bypass patients need healthy blood vessels to replaced clogged ones. Dialysis patients need to connect machines to their blood system. Harvesting a patient’s own “extra” blood vessels requires additional surgery, increasing the chances of complication. Transplanted tissues from humans or animals risk rejection, and manufactured tubes of plastic or other non-biological materials can create problems where they join living tissue, such as being sites for infection.
Humacyte is a company that has a solution. They have created “human acellular vessels” (HAVs) that are manufactured from human tissue. They grow the tissue in bioreactors, then treat them to remove the cell contents. This eliminates the components that lead to rejection by a host body after a transplant. It also means that they do not have to use a specific patient’s tissues to make a vessel for them. The result is a bio-friendly replacement vessel that can be stocked “on the shelf” until needed.
The company is already working towards FDA clearance by using HAVs with dialysis patients. The hope is that clinical trials will demonstrate that the new vessels work as well or better than the plastic tubes and other materials currently approved for use. This will help pave the way for clinical trials where the HAVs will be used to replace a patient’s own blood vessels. The company was recently named by CNBC as one of the top 50 Disruptor privately-held companies. If the product proves to be effective, it will certainly disrupt the options available to surgeons and their patients.