Mending the Youngest Hearts

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Science  26 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6046, pp. 1088-1089
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6046.1088

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This month, after an arduous approval process, surgeons are testing tissue-engineered cardiac blood vessels in the first U.S. patients. The implants, which are used to connect a major cardiac vein and the artery that carries blood to the lungs, are made of a synthetic scaffold seeded with cells from the patient's own bone marrow. In the body, the graft develops into a living blood vessel that grows with the patient. But new experiments suggest that inflammation, long seen as an enemy of transplants and artificial implants alike, seems to play a key role in the transformation of the cell-filled scaffold into a healthy blood vessel. And stem cells, which have been seen as the stars of tissue engineering, play a less significant role than expected. The results are prompting tissue engineers to rethink the role of inflammation and stem cells.