Liposuction is a surgical procedure that removes fat deposits under the skin.
It's only a preliminary study. But if the results are confirmed in future studies, the small blood vessels could eventually be used during heart bypass surgery and other procedures when blood needs to be re-routed around blocked arteries.
Researchers say millions of people with heart disease need small blood vessel replacements or grafts to restore function to damaged arteries.
The liposuction-derived blood vessels could help solve major problems with grafting blood vessels taken from elsewhere in the body or using synthetic materials.
"Current small-diameter vessel grafts carry an inherent risk of clotting, being rejected, or otherwise failing to function normally," researcher Matthias Nollert, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering, in Norman, Okla., says in a news release.
If further studies are successful, Nollert says the technique could have the potential to produce replacement blood vessels with an "off-the-shelf" availability for graft procedures.
Blood Vessels From Fat
Researchers presented the results at the American Heart Association's Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2012 Scientific Session in New Orleans.
In the experiment, adult stem cells were taken from fat extracted during liposuction. The stem cells were then grown into smooth muscle cells.
Next, the muscle cells were "seeded" or placed onto a thin sheet of amniotic membrane, which is derived from placental tissue.
As the stem cells multiplied, researchers rolled the membranes into tiny tubes that matched the diameter of small blood vessels.
After three to four weeks, the tubes grew into usable blood vessels.
"Our engineered blood vessels have good mechanical properties and we believe they will contract normally when exposed to hormones," Nollert says. "They also appear to prevent the accumulation of blood platelets -- a component in blood that causes arteries to narrow."
Researchers say they hope to test the engineered blood vessels in animals within six months.