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"Repair" of many congenital cardiac defects requires the use of conduits to establish right ventricle to pulmonary artery continuity. At present, available homografts or prosthetic conduits lack growth potential and can become obstructed by tissue ingrowth or calcification leading to the need for multiple conduit replacements. Tissue engineering is an approach by which cells are grown in vitro onto biodegradable polymers to construct "tissues" for implantation. A tissue engineering approach has recently been used to construct living cardiac valve leaflets from autologous cells in our laboratory. This study assesses the feasibility of a tissue engineering approach to constructing tissue-engineered "living" pulmonary artery conduits.

Materials and methods:

Ovine artery (group A, n = 4) or vein (group V, n = 3) segments were harvested, separated into individual cells, expanded in tissue culture, and seeded onto synthetic biodegradable (polyglactin/polyglycolic acid) tubular scaffolds (20 mm long × 15 mm diameter). After 7 days of in vitro culture, the autologous cell/polymer vascular constructs were used to replace a 2 cm segment of pulmonary artery in lambs (age 68.4 ± 15.5 days, weight 18.7 ± 2.0 kg). One other control animal received an acellular polymer tube sealed with fibrin glue without autologous cells. Animals were sacrificed at intervals of 11 to 24 weeks (mean follow-up 130.3 ± 30.8 days, mean weight 38.9 ± 13.0 kg) after echocardiographic and angiographic studies. Explanted tissue-engineered conduits were assayed for collagen (4-hydroxyproline) and calcium content, and a tissue deoxyribonucleic acid assay (bis-benzimide dye) was used to estimate number of cell nuclei as an index of tissue maturity.


The acellular control graft developed progressive obstruction and thrombosis. All seven tissue-engineered grafts were patent and demonstrated a nonaneurysmal increase in diameter (group A = 18.3 ± 1.3 mm = 95.3% of native pulmonary artery; group V = 17.1 ± 1.2 mm = 86.8% of native pulmonary artery). Histologically, none of the biodegradable polymer scaffold remained in any tissue-engineered graft by 11 weeks. Collagen content in tissue-engineered grafts was 73.9% ± 8.0% of adjacent native pulmonary artery. Histologically, elastic fibers were present in the media layer of tissue-engineered vessel wall and endothelial specific factor VIII was identified on the luminal surface. Deoxyribonucleic acid assay showed a progressive decrease in numbers of cell nuclei over 11 and 24 weeks, suggesting an ongoing tissue remodeling. Calcium content of tissue-engineered grafts was elevated (group A = 7.95 ± 5.09; group V = 13.2 ± 5.48; native pulmonary artery = 1.2 ± 0.8 mg/gm dry weight), but no macroscopic calcification was found.


Living vascular grafts engineered from autologous cells and biodegradable polymers functioned well in the pulmonary circulation as a pulmonary artery replacement. They demonstrated an increase in diameter suggesting growth and development of endothelial lining and extracellular matrix, including collagen and elastic fibers. This tissue-engineering approach may ultimately allow the development of viable autologous vascular grafts for clinical use.

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