North at heart of artery tests

Scientists in the region are to try to grow arteries in test tubes for use in heart operations.

Scientists in the region are to try to grow arteries in test tubes for use in heart operations.

Researchers at Durham University hope to prove arteries can be grown outside the body from human skin cells.

The two-year study will take stem cells - which have the potential to develop into any kind of cell - from the skin and attempt to stimulate them to transform themselves into the cells found in a normal artery.

Heart surgeon Andrew Owens from Durham University is leading the research. He said: "I am hoping that this research will show us if it is possible to see if and how skin stem cells can be used to grow new blood vessels.

"If this proves possible, we could be able to grow bypass vessels specifically for a patient using their own cells, which would benefit the patient much more than the current graft materials used."

Usually when patients need a heart bypass because of clogged arteries, surgeons take `spare' arteries or veins from an arm, leg or the stomach. But, because these are not used to operating in the same way as heart arteries, which pump blood harder and faster, they can wear out after seven to 10 years.

It means the patient could need another bypass, but may have run out of arteries to be used. Heart disease affects around 13,000 people in the region each year, killing about 1,000 men and 500 women.

Charity Heart Research UK is funding the research with an £84,000 grant. The work is part of an ongoing collaboration between the James Cook University Hospital on Teesside and Durham University, working under the North-East Stem Cell Institute (NESCI), based at the Centre for Life in Newcastle.

Mr Owens added: "Research studies such as this can only take place with the close collaboration of universities and hospitals such as ours and is largely dependent on funding from charities such as Heart Research UK. We are grateful to the charity and its supporters for the opportunity to take this exciting project forwards."

Barbara Harpham, director of Heart Research UK, said: "Sadly most people have been affected by heart disease in some way and, over the last 40 years, we have helped scientists to improve treatments and techniques to help save lives.

"This project at Durham University and James Cook University Hospital is a prime example of the type of important research that Heart Research UK is supporting around the UK."

The grant has helped make a record year for the charity which, for the first time, has donated more than £1m in grants in 12 months.

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