First synthetic windpipe transplant paves way for post-op, immunosuppresive drug-free future

Science can do some wonderful, heartstring-tugging things. Take this for example: surgeons have triumphantly performed the first ever synthetic organ transplant. Cancer-stricken Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene was the grateful recipient of this life-saving surgical breakthrough, performed by Prof. Paolo Macchiarini at Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden. The revolutionary operation comes with a zero rejection rate and requires no donor -- a huge relief for those stuck on lengthy waiting lists. Using a 3D scan of Beyene's windpipe, scientists at University College London crafted a highly-porous nanocomposite tracheal scaffold replica and covered it in stem cells harvested from his bone marrow. Within two days, the stem cells had worked their magic, weaving a brand new transplantable facsimile that is "indistinguishable from a normal healthy one." And since the procedure uses no foreign-born tissues, patients can look forward to a full-recovery sans mandatory immunosuppressive drugs, a major plus for post-op quality of life. With the surgery a success, Prof. Macchiarini's moving on to the next patient in need -- this time, a nine-month-old Korean baby with a malformed trachea. Doctors -- saving lives and warming hearts. Press release of the medically wondrous kind after the break.

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First Successful Transplantation of a Synthetic Tissue Engineered Windpipe

[PRESS RELEASE 2011-07-07] For the first time in history, a patient has been given a new trachea made from a synthetic scaffold seeded with his own stem cells.

The patient, a 36-year old man, is well on the way to full recovery and will be discharged from the hospital tomorrow. The operation was performed on June 9th 2011 at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Stockholm, by professor Paolo Macchiarini, of Karolinska University Hospital and Karolinska Institutet, and colleagues. Professor Macchiarini led an international team including professor Alexander Seifalian from the UCL (University College London, UK) who designed and built the nanocomposite tracheal scaffold and Harvard Bioscience (Boston, USA) who produced a specifically designed bioreactor used to seed the scaffold with the patient´s own stem cells. The cells were grown on the scaffold inside the bioreactor for two days before transplantation to the patient. Because the cells used to regenerate the trachea were the patient's own, there has been no rejection of the transplant and the patient is not taking immunosuppressive drugs.

The patient had been suffering from late stage tracheal cancer. Despite maximum treatment with radiation therapy, the tumor had reached approximately 6 cm in length and was extending to the main bronchus. It was progressing and almost completely blocked the trachea. Since no suitable donor windpipe was available, the transplantation of the synthetic tissue engineered trachea was performed as the last possible option for the patient, referred by professor Tomas Gudbjartsson of Landspitali University Hospital (Reykjavik, Iceland) who was also part of the surgical team.

The successful transplantation of tissue engineered synthetic organs, referred to as regenerative medicine, could open new and very promising therapeutic possibilities for the thousands of patients who suffer from tracheal cancer or other conditions that destroy, block or constrict the airway. Professor Macchiarini has previously performed successful transplants of tissue engineered tracheas, but on those occasions the tracheas used were taken from organ donors and then reseeded with the patient's own stem cells.

Transplantations of tissue engineered windpipes with synthetic scaffolds in combination with the patient's own stem cells as a standard procedure, means that patients will not have to wait for a suitable donor organ. This would be a substantial benefit for patients since they could benefit from earlier surgery and have a greater chance of cure. In addition to treating adult patients; tissue engineered synthetic trachea transplants would, not least, be of great value for children, since the availability of donor tracheas is much lower than for adult patients.