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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 15:00 GMT
Artificial vein to boost surgery
Graft
The device makes blood corkscrew through it
Scientists are developing an artificial vein for use in patients with circulation problems.

The device, which encourages blood to flow in its natural spiralling fashion, has produced highly promising results in clinical trials.

The developers hope it will offer surgeons carrying out bypass operations an alternative to relying on blood vessels taken from the patient's body.

It is hoped it could be made available to patients within a year.

If this graft works in the way we think it is going to, then it will help to improve the quality of patients' lives
Antony Odell
Tayside Flow Technologies

In theory the device could help millions of people who suffer from peripheral arterial disease.

The condition develops when fatty material builds up, and begins to narrow the blood vessels.

It can lead to serious mobility problems and, in very severe cases, the need for limb amputation.

Synthetic grafts have been developed for use in operations to bypass clogged blood vessels.

However, many get clogged up with fatty deposits themselves, and often fail within two years.

As a result, surgeons tend to rely on taking blood vessels from elsewhere in the patient's body to do the job.

Blood flow

The new device has been developed by Dr Peter Stonebridge and his colleagues at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Dr Stonebridge used sophisticated imaging equipment to prove that blood does not flow in a straight line, but rotates in a corkscrew fashion through the blood vessels.

He then used this knowledge to develop a vein made out of a polymer called ePTFE which encourages blood to move in this natural corkscrew fashion because it has a grooved interior like a gun barrel.

In theory, this should help reduce wear and tear, clean away blockages, and cut the risk that the vein will get clogged up.

Tests on 22 patients in Holland and Belgium showed the vein not only encouraged a healthy blood flow, but also remained fully open a year after they were fitted.

One 73-year-old female patient who had very limited movement, and night cramps is now able to walk again following surgery.

Quality of life

Dr Stonebridge and his colleagues have formed a company, Tayside Flow Technologies, to develop the vein, and similar stent devices which could be used to open up blocked blood vessels.

Antony Odell, the chief executive officer, said: "If this graft works in the way we think it is going to, then it will help to improve the quality of patients' lives."

Professor Gianni Angelini, an expert in cardiac surgery at Bristol University, said a reliable artificial vein would be a "terrific improvement".

He said at present, most operations relied on taking blood vessels from the patient's body.

"If you could just take something off the shelf, then that would be a lot easier, and cause less trauma to the patient," he said.

However, he said follow up studies were required to prove that the device remained fully functional in the long-term.


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