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Saturday, July 9, 2011

A patient with cancer receives an artificial tracheal transplant seeded with his own stem cells

The windpipe (trachea) transplanted into a terminal cancer patient in the Sweden is a major medical breakthrough. It promises the potential of perhaps other airway transplants in the future (such as larynx or voice box). The surgery is the first time that a trachea grown from a patient’s stem cells that were seeded onto a synthetic (plastic polymer), rather than a donor, structure has been transplanted in a human. This procedure was performed in a 36-year-old man who had tracheal cancer. 

The Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm said the surgery was performed June 9, and that the patient is on his way to a complete recovery. The patient, whose late stage cancer had almost fully blocked his windpipe, had no other options since no suitable donor for a windpipe was available.

To perform the surgery, an international team lead by Professor Paolo Macchiarini seeded a synthetic scaffold shaped as a trachea the patient's own stem cells. The new cells lined and covered the windpipe were grown on the scaffold for two days before it was transplanted into the patient. Because the cells used to regenerate the trachea were the patient's own, there was no rejection of the transplant and the patient does not have to take immunosuppressive anti-rejection drugs.

There were previous surgeries where donor’s windpipe and the patients' own stem cells were transplanted. However, the latest surgery is the first to use a man-made artificial organ. Several years ago, the same surgical team used a patient's bone marrow stem cells to coat a patient's new trachea, which was damaged from tuberculosis. A few years ago Belgian surgeons had implanted a donor windpipe into their patient's arm to restore its blood supply and grow new tissue before implanting it into her throat. In both transplants, because the patients' own cells were used to coat the windpipes, no anti-rejection medicines were required.

Artificial trachea