Making 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.