May 14, 2010
A ten-year-old boy is now breathing easy, thanks to a world first transplant using a new windpipe grown using his adult stem cells. The young boy was born with a rare condition called Long Segment Tracheal Stenosis, with a narrow windpipe that does not grow and restricts breathing. He had undergone previous surgeries to widen his windpipe but the condition had become life threatening. A team of British and Italian doctors developed a new technique to treat the young boy's life-threatening condition. They took a donor trachea, stripped it down to the cartilage scaffolding, and then injected adult stem cells from the boy's bone marrow. The stem cell-coated organ was then implanted in the boy. Over time the adult stem cells will cover the windpipe; using his own stem cells means there is no transplant rejection problem.
The major step forward in this case, is that instead of re-growing the organ with adult stem cells in the laboratory for months until it is fully formed, the cells were put into the trachea just before implanting it. The team of British and Italian scientists described the procedure as a breakthrough for its simplicity in using the ideal laboratory of the human body to rebuild the organ.
Back in 2008, the group performed their first such transplant into a young Colombian woman who faced loss of a lung due to a damaged trachea. The cells were removed from a cadaveric trachea and then the cartilage structure was bathed in the woman's bone marrow adult stem cells in the laboratory. The re-grown trachea was then transplanted into the woman, restoring her airway. The results were published in The Lancet.
In an editorial that the original team published in the journal Regenerative Medicine regarding the first transplant, they make the point:
"The positive publicity that surrounded this experience permitted the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells to be understood by a wide audience, whilst the debate in internet chat rooms between those for and against embryonic stem cell applications became slightly less based on fear and preconception and slightly more on the evidential base.
"Meanwhile, for one young woman from Colombia and her children, the implications of the first stem cell-based organ transplant are quite clear."