Going With the Flow

Cardiovascular researchers create tiny, functional blood vessels

Imagine being able to create a blood supply for engineered body tissue as a way to test experimental drugs, rather than having to try them out in actual humans.

That’s exactly what UC Irvine biomedical engineering professor Steven C. George, M.D., Ph.D., director of The Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, and his team are doing. Using cells from discarded umbilical cord blood, they’ve been growing tiny capillaries, barely visible to the naked eye. And now they have figured out how to send liquid similar to blood flowing through those networks. This “micro tissue” promises to be more realistic than traditional methods of determining whether a treatment will work in people and what the side effects might be.

“The public knows how expensive it is to develop a drug and knows about the lengthy clinical trials,” George says. “The pharmaceutical industry is looking for faster, better ways of predicting how a new substance will work. What’s frustrating for companies is they’ll think they have a promising drug because it worked in flat, petri-dish models, but then when they do an expensive human trial, it fails. Our system potentially changes that, because we’re replicating a variety of human cells in three dimensions that have their own blood supplies.”

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