Pioneering Stem Cell Surgery: Successful Windpipe Transplant

by Paul Martin -

A successful transplant of a human windpipe has been completed using the patient’s own stem cells to fashion the organ.  It helped to prevent its rejection by her immune system and is almost indistinguishable from adjacent normal bronchi.  The transplant operation was performed Claudia Castillo, 30, in June in Barcelona, Spain.  Two months after the surgery, tests have proved positive, as they all are at the better end of results for a young woman.

The Bristol University statement said a segment of trachea, roughly three inches long, was taken from a 51-year-old donor who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Using a new technique developed in Padua University, the trachea was stripped of its donor’s cells over a six-week period “so that no donor cells remained,” the statement said.

At the same time, at Bristol University, stem cells removed from Ms. Castillo’s bone marrow, were grown into “a large population” and used to “seed” the donated windpipe using a new technique developed in Milan to incubate cells.

Four days after the seeding, the graft was used to replace Ms. Castillo’s damaged windpipe.

Normally after transplants there is a high risk of rejection because the recipient’s immune system reacts against the foreign organ. Most transplant patients, thus, use immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection.

“The patient has not developed antibodies to her graft, despite not taking any immunosuppressive drugs,” the statement from Bristol University said.

This is a very exciting development that could lead to many more breakthroughs as Martin Birchall, a professor at the university, said the transplant showed “the very real potential for adult stem cells and tissue engineering to radically improve their ability to treat patients with serious diseases. We believe this success has proved that we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care.”

More Information: New York Times, BBC News

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