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Cancer Patient Effectively Donates A Life-Saving Organ—To Himself

Surgeons have transplanted an entirely engineered artificial trachea made from his own cells to save the life of a cancer patient. It's the future of organ donation, but it's here right now.

organsMaking history, doctors in a university hospital in Stockholm have successfully replaced a patient's diseased trachea with a new one that had been entirely engineered from his own stem cells. The 36-year-old man had an inoperable cancer that was obscuring his breathing—and now he's fine.

Though similar stem-cell-seeded trachea have been transplanted before, this is the first time a compete organ has been grown inside a bioreactor. And unlike a donor trachea, there's no risk of rejection because its made of his own cells and this makes recovery and ongoing life much simpler.

The many complex stages in the process began with a 3-D CT scan of the patient's existing trachea, which was used to craft a glass model. Stem cells from bone marrow were then placed into a nanocomposite polymer matrix (the design of which is patented), and grew to form a rigid structure in a bioreactor for two days, emulating the shape and function of a "real" windpipe. Right before the operation, the newly engineered organ was removed from the reactor, prepped and then surgically inserted into the gap left by the excision of the diseases organ and its tumor.

There are all sorts of implications here, starting with a provable example to counter anti-stem cell research campaigns and moving on to a reduced pressure on the donor organ system. The artificial trachea technology could be particularly important for children, who find it harder to match donor organs due to reduced sizes and generally lower availability of organs. And more than all this, the surgical success has saved one life—and could be the very first step on the road to artificially grown organs.

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  • Edith Stein

    "starting with a provable example to counter anti-stem cell research campaigns"

    NO ONE opposes stem-cell research using adult stem cells, which is what was used here.  What the anti-stem cell research campaigns oppose is embryonic stem cell research, because it involves extracting cells from a human embryo, usually killing the embryo in the process.

    And given that adult stem cell research 1) is morally unobjectionable; 2) is yielding effective treatments; and 3) contains no rejection risk ... I cannot understand why so many have pressed so hard for embryonic stem cell research.  Factor #3 alone ought to be enough to give ASCR the edge.

    Yet in the U.S., federal dollars have effectively been taken away from ASCR and given to ESCR.

  • Heath Robinson

    Are there many "anti-stem cell" research campaigns?  I thought they were anti-embryonic stem cell campaigns.  I know a doctor who is working on stem cell research who is opposed to embryonic stem cell research.  Opposition to one in no way implies opposition to the other.

  • Andrew Krause

    We already have artificially grown organs. Google Dr. Anthony Atala and the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Researchers have been growing human heart valves for a decade and implanting them into heart patients. Others have been using inkjet printers modified to print collogan into 3D structures, then profusing them with stem cells triggered to attach and differentiate into tissues. The results include livers, kidneys and hearts. These are generated from the patients own tissues, are immune to rejection and perform like new.