Blood vessel farms have been developed by scientists at Duke, East Carolina, and Yale Universities that allow the production of much needed blood vessels for surgeries around the world. The blood vessels are taken from human cadavers, developed in a lab using bioreactors, and then grown in tubes that allow the reformed tissue to serve the recipient by providing a pathway for blood in surgeries ranging from heart bypass to simpler procedures.
The technique essentially uses the muscle tissue of a cadaver and then reforms the tissue into a strong, flexible, and tight network of cells that eventually are indistinguishable to the naked eye -and the human circulatory system- to ordinary cells. The research was developed to help patients who do not currently have suitable veins or could not donate their own veins as a result of incompatibility or other problems. The new veins can in some cases be developed even healthier than the original veins found in a person leading to vastly improved cell growth.
But the technique is not the same as cloning the same organs, as scientists have pointed out. The technique calls for old tissue from a cadaver to be bioengineered into a single tissue which may then be transplanted into a new host. The use of bioreactors in a lab has come up in the news a lot lately. A similar device was used in 1999 to create heart tissue aboard Mir Space Station in the weightlessness of Earth Orbit. Similar devices have been proposed to do everything from clone other tissues to even produce food, though this particular study is still ongoing.
One of the exceptions with the veins is that it does depend on a human cadaver to produce the tissue and does not spontaneously generate the cells. But because the cells are carefully crafted, one of the advantages will be the ability for a bioengineered vein to remain free of infection far easier and clotting. In the end, we may see more tissues and organs harvested that are purely engineered rather than breaking any ethical rules in regards to cloning or causing controversy.
In 1999, when the Mir tissue study was taking place, one of the problems was the lack of blood vessels for the produced heart tissue. With this new technology, we may be closer than ever to solving that problem and creating human tissue factories that make organ donation a problem only for the history books.
Additionally, the research would call into questions about creating human organ factories in orbit where the cells can properly develop without the constant strain of gravity. If an orbiting human organ factory were to open up in the future, it would both give NASA the funding they need and provide a reason for a semi-permanent orbital installation.