Patients requiring transplants face many hurdles along the way. They need to race with time, as the average time for a suitable donor to become available can be years. They also need to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of their lives. Growing a trachea using their own stem cells shows us how regenerative medicine can change people’s lives.
Doctors in Sweden have given a man a new windpipe with tissue grown from his own stem cells taken from his bone marrow. This breakthrough procedure not only eradicated the cancerous tumor in the patient’s trachea but also prevented any problems with transplant rejection.
The synthetic trachea was made from scratch in June 2011. Researchers first used a porous medical plastic called polyethylene glycol to build a scaffold based on the dimensions of the patient’s own trachea. The scaffold was then seeded with the patient´s own adult stem cells from bone marrow. It took only two days for the stem cells to grow around the scaffold and the synthetic trachea was implanted in the patient, where it continued to develop new tracheal tissue and functioned like a natural trachea. This process took less than a week.
The first tracheal implant using stem cells was performed in 2008. The biggest difference is that a donor trachea was used at the time, instead of a synthetic scaffold. The donor trachea was stripped off all its cells, leaving only a tube of connective tissue for the bone marrow’s stem cells to make cartilage and tissue cells to cover and line the trachea.
Creating a new trachea using a synthetic scaffold is a monumental breakthrough. It allows production of tubular organs for transplant within a very short period of time. Patients in dire need of tracheal implants no longer need to wait for a donor to come along.
Researchers will use the same trachea-transplant technique on three more patients, two from the U.S. and a nine-month-old child from North Korea who was born without a trachea. In the mean time, tissue-engineered organs have also been constructed for patients by other teams, including development of new urethras and the construction of functional bladders. The research is not yet published, but we have caught a glimpse of the future of regenerative medicine.
To learn more about the tracheal implant, click here.