New research published in the journal Matter reports on the development of electronic blood vessels that are capable of adjusting to changes in the body. The electronic blood vessels may one day be able to mimic natural blood vessels in order to improve drug delivery and tissue formation.
Made from biodegradable metal-polymer conductor membranes, the vessels are flexible enough to avoid some of the limitations of conventional tissue-engineered blood vessels (TEBVs). Developed by a team of researchers at Southern University of Science and Technology and the National Center for NanoScience and Technology in China in collaboration with scientists in Switzerland, the blood vessels acted as effective artery replacements in rabbits.
This technology improves upon TEBV methods, which historically have not been able to regenerate blood vessel tissue and also frequently cause inflammation. "None of the existing small-diameter TEBVs has met the demands of treating cardiovascular diseases," says lead author Xingyu Jiang. "We take the natural blood vessel-mimicking structure and go beyond it by integrating more comprehensive electrical functions that are able to provide further treatments, such as gene therapy and electrical stimulation.”
In order to do so, the team developed a metal-polymer conductor membrane made from poly(L-lactide-co-ε-caprolactone). They demonstrated that by integrating this membrane with electrical stimulation from the blood vessel, they could amplify the proliferation and migration of endothelial cells in a wound healing model, signifying the growth of new endothelial tissue.
While the study was conducted in animal models using rabbits, the researchers say that this technology has the potential to gather and store detailed information on an individual's blood velocity, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. Of course, they caution, there must eventually be human trials in order to determine the long-term safety protocols of the technology.
"In the future, optimizations need be taken by integrating it with minimized devices, such as minimized batteries and built-in control systems, to make all the functional parts fully implantable and even fully biodegradable in the body," says Jiang.