RAIN-SHEDDING GORE-TEX fabric could make life a bit sunnier for people with kidney problems and other diseases that require frequent hormone injections. University of Washington scientists have found that the synthetic foul-weather fabric is so inert the body doesn't reject it. What's more, it can also act as a secure scaffold for attaching bioengineered cells. The Washington scientists are exploiting these properties to develop a new approach to gene therapy. The idea is to fashion artificial blood vessels from the Gore-Tex, then attach gene-altered cells to the fabric. When implanted in the body, the cells can make key therapeutic substances.

That could be a new way to combat the anemia that plagues kidney patients on dialysis. Many of them require injections of the hormone erythropoietin three times a week to stimulate production of red blood cells. In animal experiments, however, the Washington scientists are using Gore-Tex blood vessels and engineered muscle cells to deliver the hormone inside the body. The university has applied for a patent, and pediatrician William Osborne, a research team member, optimistically predicts human tests within two years.

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