Brussels, 31 Aug 2005
Researchers from Austria and Slovenia have created new materials and coatings that will extend the life of synthetic vascular grafts from months to years.
The results of the VASCUCHARGE project, funded by EUREKA, will significantly reduce the pain and discomfort suffered by patients with vascular problems, and will also lead to savings of around 7,000 euro per operation. The findings also promise to reduce replacement operations by up to 50 per cent.
The use of implants to treat vascular disease has increased over the last 20 years, and is now considered as a common procedure. Tubes are used to replace or bypass part of a blood vessel, principally the artery, and then function in a similar fashion to natural blood vessels.
Synthetic implants are however still susceptible to thrombosis or clotting, occlusions and infection caused by protein and cell adsorption, and coagulation activation. Around ten per cent of patients experience serious post-surgical problems. A substantial proportion of the difficulties are caused by vascular graft infections, and as a result, some grafts have to be replaced after only a few months.
The project partners focused on small grafts, where the problem is particularly acute. 'Little was known about the mechanisms that cause this undesired protein absorption before our work began,' said Professor Volker Ribitsch from Joanneum Research in Austria. 'We knew that there was a correlation between surface charge, surface energy and the accumulation of bioactive substances. By working closely with our Slovenian partners, we investigated these parameters and other factors, including the structure of the polymer used in the graft and a variety of coatings - such as heparin and collagen - to determine the conditions that can reduce this damaging protein absorption.'
The partners also developed a test device to make possible experimental investigations. It does this by monitoring surface properties and protein adsorption on medical devices and providing data. The partners expect the device to be on the market within two years.