Monday, July 11, 2011

First synthetic windpipe made from stem cells transplanted into man

The trachea or windpipe is the primary airway serving
the lungs. (Diagram from Wikipedia)

The day when you go in for a periodic checkup and have a few body parts replaced with new ones grown from your own cells is much closer than you might think.

A 36-year-old African man with advanced cancer of the windpipe (trachea) received an artificial trachea implant that was grown in the laboratory using the patient’s own stem cells. NPR and others reported the first-of-its-kind transplant Monday, a month after the transplant took place. The researchers say the man  had recovered fully and would return home later this week.

Researchers at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm led by Dr. Paolo Macchiarini said that while previous windpipe transplants have been performed using donor tracheas treated with the patient’s own stem cells, this is the first to use an entirely man-made organ.

The synthetic windpipe is made of a polymer scaffold and then coated with newly grown cells that developed from the patient’s own stem cells. With the patient’s own cells composing the surface area of the artificial trachea, the patient will not need lifelong anti-rejection drugs as are needed with donor transplants.

The researchers say the same technique could be used to grow simple structures to replace those in the body such as the esophagus or bladder. It will take years of further research, however, to extend the technology to more complex organs such as kidneys or hearts.

NPR’s Neal Conan interviewed NPR science reporter Richard Knox, who has been following the development of this technology for some time. You can listen to the interview here.

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