In a pioneering operation, a British teenager has received a new windpipe grown from her own stem cells and has now been discharged after the procedure in Italy. This actually saved her life as she was suffering from a rare form of tracheal cancer.
“The patient was able to speak again only a few days after the surgery”, said Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, professor of surgery at the University of Barcelona in Spain and the head surgeon in the case.
Macchiarini and his team regenerated tissue from the patients nose and bone marrow stem cells to create a trachea biologically identical to her original organ. The girl’s stem cells were grafted on to the cartilage of donor trachea that had been stripped of its own cells. Because the new trachea contained no cells from another person, no anti-rejection drugs were needed.
This was not the first trachea transplant of its kind. In 2008, Macchiarini successfully performed a trachea transplant using adult stem cells on a woman who suffered from tuberculosis. A similar operation was conducted on a British boy in March but in that case the windpipe tissues were grown inside the body without any bioreactors. For this latest trachea transplant, stem cells were used to grow a new trachea outside the body.
According to Dr. Mark Iannettoni, head of the department of cardiothoracic surgery at University of Iowa, a trachea is a fragile organ because it is mostly cartilage, which has a poor blood supply. “Once damaged, it is difficult to get it to heal correctly,” said Iannettoni. “This is a unique solution for a problem that had none, except the death of the patient. While trachea cancer is rare, it is very difficult to treat because it is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation and transplants of mechanical devices to replace the windpipe have not been effective.”
Alessandro Nanni Costa, director of Italy’s National Transplant Centre, said the new technique was “extraordinary.”
I believe it is crucial that there are more and more transplants of bioengineered organs. And this one is special – it is a cancer patient, yet the brilliant team led by Dr. Macchiarini was able to save the girl with the cutting edge regenerative medicine technology. This kind of technology already prolongs lives and has a great potential for life extension for people suffering from other diseases.