Ostrich artery use in pig bypasses raises hope for human heart patients


Scientists in Japan have used ostrich blood vessels to create a viable bypass in pigs, raising hopes of easier and more effective artery transplants for human heart patients.

The team found it could harvest vessels from the bird’s long neck to build artificial ones up to 30 cm long and 2 mm wide.

Conventional substitutes — taken from dead human donors, animals or made of synthetic fibres or resins — must be at least double that to prevent clotting problems.

Chief researcher Tetsuji Yamaoka said the arteries, which carry blood to the ostrich’s head, are processed and lined with clot-preventing molecules on a nano scale.

“Ostriches are good as they provide a stable supply of narrow and long vessels,” said Yamaoka, who heads the Biomedical Engineering Department of the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.

Researchers at Yamaoka’s lab used the new vessel in femoral artery bypass operations in five miniature pigs, bridging large arteries in their right and left thighs.

They confirmed the new vessel allowed blood to flow smoothly without clot-prevention agents, Yamaoka said this week, calling it the world’s first success in small-diameter, long bypass animal operations.

There have been bypass operations using short artificial vessels in small animals such as rats, Yamaoka said.

“But vessels must be narrow and long to be used in humans,” he said, adding at least 10 cm would be needed for heart operations and 20 cm for legs.

Surgeons could cut the new vessel to size for specific operations, making it unnecessary to take blood vessels from elsewhere in the patient’s body.

Yamaoka’s team aims to start clinical tests in three years.