A 36-year old man, who had been suffering from late stage tracheal cancer, can breathe a little easier now. Surgeons saved his life by removing a cancerous tumor and putting in its place, an entirely new trachea. But it wasn't just a regular donor organ, the windpipe was made with a synthetic scaffold that had been soaked in the patient's own stem cells.
The organ is truly custom-made: modeled after the patient's own organ and is covered in the patient's own stem cells. It eliminates the risk of rejection of the transplant and the need for a human donation.
The operation was performed a month ago at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, after Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene, a student from Eritrea, in a last attempt at getting rid of a cancerous tumor that was blocking his breathing passage, reports The Telegraph. Now, a month after the surgery, the student is recovering and doesn't need to take immunosuppressive drugs.
However, the process began way before the patient ever made it into the operating room. Researchers at the University College London got a three-dimensional scan of the man's windpipe. Using images of the patient's own organ, scientists created a glass scaffold of the exact shape of the patient's windpipe as well as two bronchial tubes. Next, the scaffold made its way to Sweden, where a bioreactor from Harvard Bioscience was used to soak the patient's own stem cells onto the custom-made scaffold. The windpipe had been made with millions of holes, giving the stem cells plenty of room to grow for two days. Finally, the surgery was performed by the experienced windpipe transplant surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. According to the BBC, Macchiarini had already performed 10 windpipe transplants, but those all required a donor. This one didn't.
Recently, surgeon Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center used lab-grown urtheras to treat patients with damaged urinary tracts. In the future, cell-based therapies could be used to treat diseases such as blindness, diabetes, and heart failure. University of College London professor Chris Mason told The BBC:
When an organ or tissue is irreparably damaged or traumatically destroyed, no amount of drugs or mechanical devices will restore the patient back to normal. If the goal is cure, then cell-based therapies are the answer. Using living cells as ‘medicines’ is a major step-change in clinical practice.
It seems the field of regenerative medicine is finally maturing and perhaps, this successful transplantation of a synthetic windpipe will open up some doors on future therapeutic options. If this procedure can be used more frequently, patients wouldn't have to wait for an organ donor because the synthetic windpipes can be made within a week.
via First Successful Transplantation of a Synthetic Tissue Engineered Windpipe [Karolinska University Hospital]
Photo: Harvard Bioscience, Inc.
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