Four million euro to develop new blood vessels for kidney dialysis

TU/e together with UMC Utrecht and the TU/e spin-off Xeltis are developing a new way to generate an autologous blood vessel inside the body, for kidney dialysis. The project, with a total value of four million euros, is receiving a subsidy of two million euros from the research finance provider ZonMw. The new blood vessels are autologous, which means it should lead to far fewer complications than the present techniques, which in many cases use plastic tubes to join arteries and smaller blood vessels.

Two million patients
More than two million people around the world with very poor kidney function are currently treated by dialysis. This is done by a unit, located outside the body, which takes over the function of the kidneys to purify the blood. However this requires large blood flows, which only the arteries can provide. But the arteries are located deep in the body, which means they are hard to access. Surgeons therefore frequently carry out operations to insert synthetic bypasses between arteries and smaller blood vessels. These smaller vessels are located close to the surface of the skin, and are hence easily accessible. The insertion of the bypass leads to a big increase in the blood flow in the smaller vessel. Physicians can then connect the dialysis unit to this vessel. The big disadvantage of this method – in most cases using plastic tubes – is that these often become blocked by rapid cell growth and thromboses, and also causing high levels of infections. These in turn require further surgery.

Bio-active signals
Patricia Dankers and her team intend to work on autologous blood vessels to make these bypasses. These will use tubes made of a very special material, based on supramolecular interactions. The tubes are inserted by means of operations, and will immediately be able to act as blood vessels. The aim is then that the material will selectively attract cells from the blood stream. The material transmits bio-active signals to the cells, so these will gradually form a new blood vessel. At the same time the inserted tube slowly dissolves, and ultimately disappears, while a new blood vessel made of autologous cells is formed. The researchers intend to make both the tube and the new ‘genuine’ blood vessel in a way that will prevent blockages. Their work builds further on the knowledge that has already been developed at TU/e in growing autologous pulmonary heart valves. This video gives an explanation of the principle.

Human application
The project will have a duration of five years, and will prepare for the first human application. As well as Dankers, the team of researchers at TU/e includes professor Frank Baaijens and professor Carlijn Bouten. The UMC Utrecht team is led by professor Marianne Verhaar and vascular surgeon Raechel Toorop, together with Martijn Cox from Xeltis. The project is also supported by the Nierstichting (Kidney Foundation).

The project has a total value of four million euros. Financing is provided by the participating parties, by the Nierstichting and by ZonMw. TU/e is financing two PhD candidates from its Impuls program.