There is still an unmet clinical need for small-caliber artery substitution. Decellularized scaffolds in tissue engineering represent a promising solution. We have developed an innovative system for the automatic decellularization of blood vessels, used to process pig arteries. The system is able to automatically drive a decellularization process in a safe and reliable environment, with complex time patterns, using up to three different decellularization solutions, and providing at the same time a physical stress to improve the decellularization. The decellularization of pig arteries was evaluated by means of histology, DNA quantification and mechanical testing. Outcomes showed scaffolds with no cellular or nuclear remnants and a well-preserved tissue structure, corroborated by mechanical properties similar to native tissue. Decellularized scaffolds were seeded on the inner layer with human endothelial cells and implanted as iliac artery replacement in 4 pharmacologically immune-compromised pigs. This chimeric model was performed as a very preliminary evaluation to investigate the performances of these scaffolds in vivo, and to investigate the fate of seeded cells. Recipients were sacrificed on day 14 and day 70 after surgery, and vessels were found to be patent and with no evidence of thrombi formation. The inner layer was covered by endothelial cells, and the migration of cells positive for α-smooth-muscle actin was observed from the outer layer towards the tunica media. Intriguingly, the endothelial cells on explanted vessels were entirely derived from the host while the seeded cells were lost. In conclusion, this work presents a novel tool for a safe and controlled production of arterial scaffolds, with good decellularization outcomes and a good performance in a short-term, large-animal implantation.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel