Toddler Gets Windpipe Grown From Her Own Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   May 1, 2013   |   3:06PM   |   Washington, DC

An adorable two year-old has a new lease on life thanks to pioneering doctors, a charitable Catholic hospital and her own stem cells. Little Hannah Warren was born without a trachea, the passageway that leads to the lungs. Although a tube was inserted from her esophagus to her lungs to help her breath, doctors told her parents that she would likely die.

Hannah is now recovering from a trachea transplant. The trachea was made from a plastic scaffold and stem cells taken from her bone marrow. Fox News has the story:

A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe now has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment…

Early signs indicate the windpipe is working, Hannah’s doctors announced Tuesday, although she is still on a ventilator. They believe she will eventually be able to live at home and lead a normal life.

“We feel like she’s reborn,” said Hannah’s father, Darryl Warren.

“They hope that she can do everything that a normal child can do but it’s going to take time. This is a brand new road that all of us are on,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is her only chance but she’s got a fantastic one and an unbelievable one.”

Hannah will need speech therapy to train a voice box that has never been used and she will need a new trachea in about five years as she grows, but she was able to taste a bit of food for the first time in her life.

Hannah, born in South Korea, is the youngest patient ever to receive this treatment which gives hope to the 1 child in 50,000 world-wide who are born without a wind-pipe.

The Warrens were unable to afford the surgery, but a Catholic hospital in Illinois stepped in to provide treatment at no cost:

Hannah’s parents had read about Dr. Paolo Macchiarini’s success using stem-cell based tracheas but couldn’t afford to pay for the operation at his center, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. So Dr. Mark Holterman helped the family arrange to have the procedure at his Peoria hospital, bringing in Macchiarini to lead the operation. Children’s Hospital waived the cost, likely hundreds of thousands of dollars, Holterman said.



Part of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, the Roman Catholic hospital considers the operation part of their mission to provide charity care, but also views it as a way to champion a type of stem-cell therapy that doesn’t involve human embryos, the surgeons said. The Catholic church opposes using stem cells derived from human embryos in research or treatment.

That is called putting your money where your mouth is.

I pray this procedure is a success today and in the future when Hannah has to have another transplant.

This technique of coaxing a patient’s own stem cells to grow on a scaffold has been used to make bladders and urethras and scientists hope it can be used to grow to other organs like livers and kidneys as well.