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First Vein Grown From Human Stem Cells Transplanted

The first vein grown from a patient’s own stem cells was successfully transplanted into a 10-year-old girl, potentially offering a way for those lacking healthy veins to undergo dialysis or heart bypass surgery.

A team led by Michael Olausson of the University of Gothenburg took a 9-centimeter (3.5-inch) segment of vein from a human donor and removed all living cells, the Swedish researchers wrote in a study in The Lancet medical journal today. The resulting protein scaffolding was injected with stem cells from the girl’s bone marrow, and two weeks later was implanted in the patient, who had a blockage in the vein that carries blood from the spleen and intestines to the liver.

The result points to what may be a safer source of stem cells, the building blocks of life which can grow into any type of tissue in the body. Using cells from the patient may limit the risk that the immune system would attack the transplant, which can occur with tissue taken from healthy people and given to the sick. The girl hasn’t developed signs of rejection, even without taking drugs to suppress her immune system, the researchers said.

The successful procedure “establishes the feasibility and safety of a novel paradigm for treatment,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Our work opens interesting new areas of research, including trying to reproduce arteries for surgical use in patients.”

The recipient had no complications from the operation, and a year later, has grown 6 centimeters and gained 5 kilograms (11 pounds) in weight.

“Olausson and colleagues’ report suggests that tissue-engineered vascular grafts are promising, but one-off experiences such as the procedure they describe need to be converted into full clinical trials in key target populations,” Martin Birchall and George Hamilton, professors at the University College London, wrote in a commentary accompanying the Lancet publication.

The study was funded by the Swedish government.

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