Photo of Florencia Montini

Nanotechnology & materials

Florencia Montini

Her grafts imitate the natural properties of the human body and could revolutionize vascular bypasses

Year Honored

Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencia y Tecnología de Materiales

Latin America

Hails From

A vascular bypass is a surgical technique widely used to restore circulation to obstructed or damaged blood vessels, like those caused by various cardiovascular diseases, like atheosclerosis. During a vascular bypass, a bridge or deviation is created to allow blood to circulate through or around the affected vessel, using pieces taken from other veins or arteries, or even artificial materials when it is not possible to use a biological material. This last option has several disadvantages, since the body is incapable of regenerating them and they do not have the same physical properties as natural tissue.

And, consequently, science is actively pursuing new, biocompatible materials with similar capabilities to those of blood vessels. Florencia Montini´s development of a conduit made from a new, biomimetic material with the same elastic properties as blood vessels, which do not produce clots and can be reabsorbed by the body, has led to her recognition as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2017.

This new material is made up of two polymers: PLLA, which is available commercially and has similar characteristics to collagen, and PHD, which was developed in Montini´s lab and is similar to elastin, the Argentinian pioneer explains. Collagen and elastin are the two primary natural components of the extracellular matrix of blood vessels. The conduit designed by Montini is characterized by a structure with several layers and with different proportions of the two synthetic polymers. In the lab, this configuration has demonstrated the ability to reproduce the mechanical properties of blood vessels, a scientific first.

But that is not all. These polymers degrade without releasing toxins into the human body. Montini confirmed that the degradation time is compatible with tissue regeneration times, which means that once the surgery has been performed, the patient´s own body will end up replacing the conduit with newly generated vascular tissue. "The conduit is implanted exactly as it is synthesized," the scientist explains. Once grafted, "the patient´s cells will migrate to the implant and will begin to produce regenerated tissue while the graft degrades."

According to Montini, there is no available synthetic alternative which offers all of these properties. Existing options are "more rigid and generate complications like blood clots and implant rejections." To avoid inducing clots, the surface of the tube she created is treated with heparin, and in vitro studies have demonstrated that this reduces the adhesion of platelets, the cells which form obstructions and clots. The next step is to confirm these characteristics through in vivo tests.

The doctor at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Innovators Under 35 Mexico 2014 laureates, Guillermo Ulises Ruiz Esparza, describes this technology as "very innovative" and adds "Montini´s work could have a significant impact on the cardiovascular field." This jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Latin America competition highlights that "the development of this type of technologies has only focused up until now on the biological interactions, not on the mechanical properties of the grafts like Montini has done."