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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 November, 2003, 00:26 GMT
Valves grown from patient cells
The technique has been used by surgeons in Germany
Doctors have developed a new type of replacement heart valve using cells taken from patients, it has emerged.

Surgeons in Germany say they have already been used effectively in 23 patients with heart valve disease.

Until now replacement valves have been artificial - made of metal or plastic - or taken from animal or human donors.

At the American Heart Association conference in Orlando the surgeons said their technique appeared to speed recovery and avoid tissue rejection.

Cells grown

The surgeons, who are based at Berlin's Charite Hospital, created the valves by first removing a small portion of vein from a patient's leg or arm.

They then grew endothelial cells - cells that make up the lining of blood vessels - from the vein. The cells were grown over a donor valve, taken from either a pig or a dead patient.

The patients are in very good shape
Dr Pascal Dohmen
This valve was used as a scaffold - it was stripped of its own cells so that the patient's own cells would grow around it.

The valve was then implanted into the patient.

According to the surgeons, the patient's own cells form a completely new scaffold after about a year.

The 23 patients who received the valves have been followed up for three years.

Surgeons said the patients were in better condition than patients who had received traditional valves. They recovered more quickly and were discharged from hospital earlier.

The surgeons said the technique also means that patient's bodies do not reject the valves since they are from their own tissue.

"It does not cause an immunological reaction," said Dr Pascal Dohmen, who led the study. "The patients are in very good shape."

Much further research is needed before the technique could be used more widely on patients.

However, the surgeons are confident their technique will prove much better for patients with heart valve disease.

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