Abstract

Ex vivo systems represent important models to study vascular biology and to test medical devices, combining the advantages of in vitro and in vivo models such as controllability of parameters and the presence of biological response, respectively. The aim of this study was to develop a comprehensive ex vivo vascular bioreactor to long-term culture and study the behavior of native blood vessels under physiologically relevant conditions. The system was designed to allow for physiological mechanical loading in terms of pulsatile hemodynamics, shear stress, and longitudinal prestretch and ultrasound imaging for vessel diameter and morphology evaluation. In this first experience, porcine carotid arteries (n = 4) from slaughterhouse animals were cultured in the platform for 10 days at physiological temperature, CO2 and humidity using medium with blood-mimicking viscosity, components, and stability of composition. As expected, a significant increase in vessel diameter was observed during culture. Flow rate was adjusted according to diameter values to reproduce and maintain physiological shear stress, while pressure was kept physiological. Ultrasound imaging showed that the morphology and structure of cultured arteries were comparable to in vivo. Histological analyses showed preserved endothelium and extracellular matrix and neointimal tissue growth over 10 days of culture. In conclusion, we have developed a comprehensive pulsatile system in which a native blood vessel can be cultured under physiological conditions. The present model represents a significant step toward ex vivo testing of vascular therapies, devices, drug interaction, and as basis for further model developments.

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