Scientists have found a way to overcome the problem of the human body rejecting animal parts used in transplants.
The work, by the University of Leeds, means the use of animal tissue such as blood vessels, tendons and bladders may become common in surgery.
Human organs for transplant are constantly in short supply, meaning long waits for many patients.
Currently, the use of animal tissue for human transplant is restricted, and of limited effectiveness.
For instance, chemically treated heart valves from pigs have been transplanted into patients for more than a decade, but have a limited life span as they are inert and cannot be populated by the patient’s own cells, and ruling out any possibility of repair to damage.
This poses a particular problem for young patients, as the valves do not grow with the child, and must be replaced frequently.
The Leeds team used a combination of freezing, chemical baths and ultrasound to strip the animal tissue of the cells and biological molecules that trigger a response from the immune system.
This left a biological scaffold which could then be populated by cells from a patient’s own body, creating a tissue which carries no risk of rejection, which can be repaired, and which can grow with the body.