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Artificial blood vessel advance
A blood vessel ready for surgery
A blood vessel ready for surgery
A revolutionary way of creating blood vessels for heart bypass surgery has won a major award for medical innovation.

Chris Mason, a Medical Research Council Clinical Fellow at University College London who developed the technique won the 10,000 National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts prize at the Medical Futures Awards in London, announced on Thursday.

His idea will also be fast tracked through NESTA's Invention and Innovation programme, with the chance of possible further funding of up to 100,000.

Mr Mason told BBC News Online that he believed his automated system would move tissue engineering away from being a "cottage industry" where tissue is made in laboratories by hand.


The real advantage of this is that you can automate the system

Chris Mason, researcher
Tissue engineering uses living cells combined with either synthetic or naturally derived chemicals to replace damaged or defective tissues, such as skin, cartilage.

Even whole organs could one day be created.

Leg veins

In the system Mr Mason has devised, a patient's cells are mixed with the chemicals, then injected into a disposable plastic mould where they multiply.

Because this happens within the mould, there is less chance of contamination and the procedure is more efficient.

The initial research will focus on creating blood vessels for use in cardiac bypass surgery.

At the moment a vein is transplanted from the patient's own leg.

This can be lengthy and painful - so much so that many patients complain about leg pain rather than chest pain after surgery.

The automated tissue engineering system should mean patients spend less time in hospital and free up surgeon's time.

Mr Mason estimated around one million metres of blood vessels are needed each year for cardiac bypass surgery, many more than are currently made.

He said his automated system was better than the existing system because there was no human contact with the blood vessel until the surgeon removes it to transplant it into the patient.

But Mr Mason warned it could be at least seven years before trials involving patients begin.

He also suggested automated engineering of human tissue could allow an ethical alternative to testing drugs on animals.

More bypass operations

He said: "The real advantage of this is that you can automate the system.

"You make a much better quality product when you automate something - what you make on Monday is the same as what you make on Tuesday and on Wednesday"

He said more heart bypasses could be done once the technique was in use.

"Surgeons currently get through two a day. It's highly likely that with good organisation, they could be up to three if they used a blood vessel that came straight out of the fridge.

Professor Sir Christopher Evans, Shaun Rusling has won his battle at an awards ceremony in London on Thursday, said: "The present methods of tissue engineering are expensive and carry a greater degree of contamination due to the amount of human contact involved in the manufacturing process.

"This innovative idea could revolutionise healthcare by providing a cleaner and less costly alternative and could be an excellent investment for NESTA and the UK as a whole."

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25 Apr 02 | Health
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