Using nanotechnology in cardiology – Synthetic nanofiber vascular grafts

An entirely new material was introduced this month that increases the quality of synthetic small-diameter nanofiber vascular grafts. The new nanofiber material reduces the risk of blood clots and complications in heart surgery patients.

A scientific team headed by Professor David Lukáš has been working to develop the material for the past five years in cooperation with the scientific team of Associate Professor Lukáš Čapek. The scientists developed the new material as part of a project of the Czech Ministry of Health in cooperation with scientists of the Faculty of Military Health Science of the University of Defence in Hradec Králové and with physicians of the Cardiac Surgery Clinic.

The need to develop a new material was expressed by cardiology and cardiac surgery departments, which are constantly faced with a lack of autografts, i.e. grafts using the patient’s own tissue that are the first choice during cardiac surgery. Unfortunately, in a number of cases, as autografts cannot be used, an alternative must be found and blocked vessels are ultimately bypassed with artificial vessels. While this method works well in larger diameter artificial vascular grafts, it presents a problem in vessels less than 6mm in diameter, where artificial grafts threaten the lives of patients because of potential blood clots. This task was very demanding, considering the complicated nature of vascular tissue, which contains several types of cells.

Now, after many years of research a team of scientists has been able to create a double-layered vascular graft where the nanofiber structure very closely mimics the extracellular matrix in the vasculature.

Synthetic nanofiber vascular grafts are produced by electrostatically creating fibers from biocompatible and biodegradable materials. Very important advances have been made with respect to biodegradability (the gradual breaking down or degradation of substances in the body). The materials used in the body of the patient degrade over a number of months, which ensures sufficient time for gradual replacement with fully functional tissue, i.e. remodeling.

For the time being, very careful animal testing is underway that is necessary before moving on to clinical trials. As in similar cases, we cannot rush the process because it is a very high-risk application and the lives of patients will be at risk during testing. Nevertheless, if scientists are able to successfully conclude clinical testing, there is a great chance here to reduce the health risks and complications of cardiac surgery.

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