Stem Cells Make Heart-Like Cuff to Improve Venous Blood Flow

Researchers at George Washington University have used stem cells to make a new organ that help return blood from defective veins back to the heart. This mini-organ consists of heart muscle cells that surround the vein and act as a miniature heart that pulsates that aids blood flow through venous segments. This mini-cuff is made from the patient’s own stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells), which eliminates the possibility of immunological rejection.  See video here.

Beating Venous Engineered Heart Tissue Cuff made from an excised segment of a rat posterior tibial vein
Beating Venous Engineered Heart Tissue Cuff made from an excised segment of a rat posterior tibial vein.

“We are suggesting for the first time, to use stem cells to create, rather than just repair damaged organs,” said Narine Sarvazyan, professor of pharmacology and physiology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “We can make a new heart outside of one’s own heart, and by placing it in the lower extremities, significantly improve venous blood flow.”

Such a mini-pump might provide relief to patients who suffer from chronic venous insufficiency. which is a pervasive disease in developed countries. Chronic venous insufficiency occurs in about 20-30 percent of people over 50 years of age and is responsible for approximately 2% of health costs. A long-term condition, chronic venous insufficiency decreases the efficiency of the veins to send blood from the legs back to the heart. Chronic vein insufficiency can result from partial blockage or poorly functional, leaky valves in the veins.

Chronic venous insufficiency patients may suffer from varicose veins and ulcers on their legs and ankles. They may need surgery to remove varicose veins – if the condition causes skin sores and leg pain – and using compression stockings to decrease swelling.

The treatment option for chronic venous insufficiency outlined in a recently published paper in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, is a masterful advance in tissue engineering since it moves from organ repair to organ creation. Sarvazyan, together with members of her team, has demonstrated the feasibility of this novel approach in culture and they are working toward testing these devices in a living animal.

Because studies with valvular reconstruction or transplantation of excised autologous valves have shown that replacement of even a single valve can lead to significant improvements in the affected limb, Sarvazyan is hopeful that this treatment can provide genuine, durable relief in human patients some day.