When surgeons are unable to use a patient's own veins to bypass diseased vessels elsewhere, they resort to fashioning arteries from polyester and similar artificial fabrics. It works, but it's far from ideal. These materials are prone to infection, clot formation and other complications. Borrowing a trick from the textile industry, though, could provide a solution. To that end, a surgery research team at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Martin Bide, a professor of textiles, fashion merchandising and design at the University of Rhode Island, have collaborated for 10 years.

Their decade of work is about to pay off. The group has found a way to use antibiotics as dyes in artificial arteries made from polyester. The method, Bide says, is actually a bad dye job: the antibiotic "dye" slowly leaches out of the polyester. But it is exactly this trait that makes the tactic medically useful. When the researchers are finished testing Bide's process, CardioTech International in Woburn, Mass., plans to commercialize it. The company has supported Bide and the surgeons at Beth Israel with a technology transfer grant from the National Institutes of Health.