U. LEEDS (UK)—Researchers have developed a technique that uses material derived from natural human or animal tissues to create biological scaffolds for repairing arteries, tendons, ligaments, and even heart valves.

Because a patient’s own cells can populate these new biological scaffolds, they are accepted by the immune system and can be repaired like normal tissue.

“If you take a natural tissue and strip off all of the donor’s cells you’re left with a biological scaffold made mostly of a protein called collagen, which is compatible with the patient receiving the scaffold. That scaffold is good from an engineering perspective because it’s strong, flexible, and retains the properties of the natural tissue,” says John Fisher, a professor at the University of Leeds.

“It also has the appropriate shape and size, and from a biological perspective is good because a patient’s cells can bind to it and repopulate it easily.”

Fisher spoke at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting on July 16 about how research on biological scaffolding will pave the way for off-the-shelf tissue transplants.

There is a significant advantage from this technique because of the longevity of the transplant compared to other previously developed techniques.

Chemically treated and strengthened prosthetic heart valves from pigs, for example, have been in used in human transplants for more than a decade, but the chemical process which stops them from being rejected by the patient’s immune system also leaves them lifeless and inert.

Because they cannot be repaired like living tissues, these prosthetic valves are degraded over time and need to be replaced frequently.

This research is being developed in conjunction with the NHS Blood & Transplant Tissue Services and with Tissue Regenix Group PLC, a company set up by researchers to bring new biological scaffolds to market. Funding for the research in this area also came via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, the Department of Health, and the Wellcome Trust.

More news from the University of Leeds: www.leeds.ac.uk/news