Globally, one out of 100 children is born with a heart defect. In some severe cases, a heart valve or blood vessel functions poorly or may even be missing.
Such congenital heart defects are commonly treated today by replacing the missing or damaged part with synthetic prosthetic materials. Unlike tissue transplanted directly from human donors, such artificial materials are not rejected by the recipient's immune system. However, a major drawback of these materials is that grafts need to be replaced regularly as the child grows, and this requires repeated surgery and lifelong medical treatment.
A multidisciplinary team at Wyss Zurich has developed a unique tissue engineering technology to grow replacement tissue in the laboratory that will be compatible with every patient and that will regenerate and grow with the recipient. To create this tissue, cells of human origin are first grown in culture on a scaffold in the shape of a heart valve or blood vessel. In a process called decellularization, the cells are then removed, leaving behind a perfectly shaped, biologically neutral human tissue matrix called LifeMatrix. After implantation, the recipient's own cells will repopulate the LifeMatrix, replacing the biodegradable scaffold, and this tissue will continue to grow with the child. Such grafts will avoid repeated major surgery and its associated risks.
Previous work on autologous and personalized cellular tissues (tissue grown from the patient’s own body) is the basis for this next-generation tissue engineering technology, and approval for a pilot clinical study has already been granted by the German authority (PEI). The aim of the Wyss Zurich project is to bring the LifeMatrix technology into the clinic with a first-in-man clinical trial.