Divisions – Blood Disorders

Vascular disease refers to any disorder of the arteries, veins, lymph vessels, or blood that affects the circulatory system. Vascular disorders include peripheral artery disease (PAD), aneurysm, kidney (renal) artery disease, Raynaud’s Disease, peripheral venous disease (PVD), varicose veins, and blood clotting disorders. PAD, a blockage in one or more arteries outside the heart, can cause chest pain or a heart attack, transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, leg cramps with activity (claudication), or renal artery stenosis. PAD afflicts an estimated 8 to 12 million Americans.

An aneurysm, or abnormal bulge in the wall of a blood vessel, usually forms in the aorta, the primary main blood vessel exiting the heart. Nearly 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with abdominal aortic aneurysm each year. In PVD, valves inside the veins become damaged, causing veins to bulge and appear as ropes under the skin. Venous blood clots can be quite serious and include deep vein thrombosis (DVT), chronic venous insufficiency, and pulmonary embolism in which a blood clot detaches from a vein and travels to the lungs. Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) can eventually lead to varicose veins, leg edema, leg pain, chronic skin changes, and non-healing ulcers. Over 24 million Americans have varicose veins while more than 600,000 people are hospitalized for DVT each year.

Blood disorders consist of anemia and various bleeding conditions as well as blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Anemia is caused by a loss of red blood cells (RBCs) (a lowered RBC count). A blood transfusion is often needed to treat serious forms of anemia, including aplastic, Fanconi, hemolytic, and iron-deficiency anemia, sickle cell anemia, and anemia caused by kidney disease, cancer, or radiation.

Due to the difficulty in storing human blood, artificial blood (also called blood substitutes) can be a viable alternative to blood during a transfusion. Although some blood substitutes have been FDA-approved, improved artificial blood free of side effects is urgently needed. Tissue engineering – a complex bioengineering process of making new tissue to repair or replace damaged organs or body parts – is a promising technology for manufacturing synthetic blood. With a commitment to discovering innovative biomedical therapies for poorly treated blood diseases, PHLBI is currently evaluating blood substitutes for transfusion in surgeries and other potentially life-saving procedures. PHLBI is also investigating the safety and benefits of experimental interventions for managing vascular conditions such as PVD, PAD, DVT, and CVI.