Researchers here report on an interesting proof of concept, incorporating electronic device capabilities into the flexible biomaterials used as scaffolding for blood vessel tissue engineering. As a next generation technology to potentially replace the use of stents in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, bioartificial blood vessel sections are already promising. Adding to this the programmable ability to alter nearby cell behavior, control delivery of gene-based therapeutics, or report sensory data on cells and blood flow opens up intriguing new vistas for the future.

A variety of tissue-engineered blood vessels (TEBVs) have been created to provide mechanical support for hard-to-treat blockages of tiny blood vessels, but these have limitations, and none “has met the demands of treating cardiovascular diseases. We take the natural blood vessel-mimicking structure and go beyond it by integrating more comprehensive electrical functions that are able to provide further treatments, such as gene therapy and electrical stimulation.”

Researchers fabricated a new form of electronic blood vessels using a cylindrical rod to roll up a membrane made from poly(L-lactide-co-ε-caprolactone). In the lab, they showed that electrical stimulation from the blood vessels increased the proliferation and migration of endothelial cells in a wound-healing model, suggesting that electrical stimulation could facilitate the formation of new endothelial blood vessel tissue. They also integrated the flexible circuitry with an electroporation device, which applies an electrical field to make cell membranes more permeable, and observed that this successfully delivered green fluorescent protein DNA into three kinds of blood vessel cells.

A three-month trial in rabbits showed, they say, that the artificial arteries appeared to function just as well as natural ones, with no sign of narrowing, and with no inflammatory response in the host. Part of the next stage is to try to pair the electronic blood vessels with smaller electronics than the electroporation device used in this study.