Building new blood vessels to treat babies with structural defects of the heart
Translational Research Project Grant (PhD studentship) – Prof Paolo Madeddu, Bristol Heart Institute
In the UK, at least 1 in 180 babies is born with congenital heart disease which means a heart defect that develops in the womb, before a baby is born. So that these babies can survive, cardiac surgeons often have to perform complex surgery to replace and correctly position defective arteries and valves. The grafts currently used to repair hearts are made of non-living materials. This means that as the baby’s heart grows rapidly during the first years’ of life, the grafts do not grow and the child will need further surgery to replace the grafts.
The aim of this project is to isolate and use special cells from the baby’s umbilical cord to grow ‘blood vessels’ that behave like a life-like artery and grow with the child’s heart. These cells, called pericytes, will be grown in the laboratory and then placed in a special incubator where they will be grown to form tube-shaped ‘biomaterials’ that behave like blood vessels. This ‘living graft’ can then be used by a cardiac surgeon to correct the child’s heart defect.
If this research is successful it will significantly improve the lives of babies born with heart defects, as babies could have their heart defects corrected shortly after birth, without the need for multiple traumatic operations as they get older.