Adult Stem Cells Help Create New Windpipe, Save Cancer Patient

Bioethics   |   David Prentice, Ph.D.   |   Jul 8, 2011   |   10:41AM   |   Washington, DC

A cancer patient has received the first synthetic windpipe transplant. The new windpipe was created using the patient’s own adult stem cells which were seeded onto a synthetic scaffold to grow the new tissue.

According to his doctors, the patient, a 36-year-old Eritrean man and father of two, no longer has cancer and is expected to have a normal life expectancy.

Professor Paolo Macchiarini, of Karolinska University Hospital and Karolinska Institute, led the team that performed the transplant operation on 9 June 2011 at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Stockholm. Professor Macchiarini also led the international team that developed the artificial windpipe, which included Professor Alexander Seifalian from the University College London, UK, who designed and built the nanocomposite tracheal scaffold, and Harvard Bioscience, a Boston, USA company that produced a specifically designed bioreactor used to seed the scaffold with the patient´s own adult stem cells from bone marrow.

According to the Karolinska institute:

“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 (anti-rejection) drugs.”

Creating a new windpipe using the patient’s own adult stem cells and a synthetic scaffold is a tremendous breakthrough, allowing production of tubular organs for transplant within a short period of time. As Prof. Macchiarini noted:

“It makes all the difference. If the patient has a malignant tumor in the windpipe, you can’t wait months for a donor to come along.”

Dr. Macchiarini said he planned to use the same windpipe-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.

Prof. Macchiarini and his team have previously used a similar technique to transplant new windpipes into throat cancer patients, as well as other patients who needed tracheal replacements due to various conditions. The team’s first such tracheal transplant was in 2008, for a young Colombian woman with a trachea damaged by tuberculosis.

In these previous cases, the patient’s adult stem cells were seeded onto a scaffold made from cadaver windpipe which had all the cells removed. The seeded adult stem cells attached to the cartilage scaffold and created the new tissue for the transplant.

In this newest advance, a synthetic scaffold was used. The patient’s bone marrow adult stem cells were seeded onto this artificial scaffold where they attached and grew for two days prior to the transplant. The growing trachea was then transplanted into the patient, where it continued to develop new tracheal tissue and functioned like a natural trachea. Imaging and other tests showed appropriate development of the new tissue. Using the patient’s own adult stem cells prevented any problems with transplant rejection.

Tissue-engineered organs have also been constructed for patients by other teams, including development of new urethras as well as the construction of functional bladders. The research is not yet published.