Stem Cell Windpipe Transplant Recipient Doing Well
July 27, 2012

Boy Still Doing Well After Receiving Stem Cell Windpipe Transplant

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Stem cell research has made yet another stride, as one boy who received a trachea is showing a remarkable recovery.

Researchers writing in the journal The Lancet said the child who received a new windpipe built with his own stem cells is doing well and is back in school.

Ciaran Finn-Lynch was born with long-segment tracheal stenosis, which causes breathing difficulties. Due to his condition, his lungs collapsed on the day he was born, so he had to have major surgery to reconstruct his airways when he was just six days old.

In 2009, one of the metal tubes that were used to hold open his airways damaged the main blood vessel coming out of his heart.

Finn-Lynch had to undergo ground-breaking surgery at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2010. Doctors said that this procedure was the boy's only option.

The doctors took a donor windpipe, and stripped it of all the donor's cells. Stem cells were then taken from Ciaran's bone marrow, and were sprayed onto the newly transplanted windpipe.

Tiny sections of lining from his original windpipe were patched on to the replacement. This prompted the stem cells to turn into the right kind of tissue and help start the growth of the windpipe lining.

He was also fitted with a biodegradable stent to help keep his airway open for the first six months while the windpipe began to grow back into place.

The surgery had been tried once before in Spain, 2008, on a 30-year-old woman, but Ciaran was the first child to undergo the procedure.

So far, the researchers have reported that he has had no sign of the transplant being rejected. They wrote that "the boy was alive, growing, had normal lung function, and had returned to school."

Since the surgery, Ciaran has grown nearly four-and-a-half inches, and has developed a musical interest as a drummer.

“So far we have achieved this, but we are at the edge of medicine and, similarly to first attempts of organ transplantation in the 1950s, many challenges remain," Professor Martin Elliott, who led the transplant team at Great Ormond Street, said in a statement to BBC News.

He said that a second child underwent a tracheal transplant at the same medical center, but that child passed away at a later date despite a successful surgery.

“We need more research on stem cells grown deliberately inside the body, rather than grown first in a laboratory over a long time," Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology at the University College London Ear Institute (University College London Ear Institute), said in a statement to ABC News. “This research should help to convert one-off successes into more widely available clinical treatments for thousands of children with severe tracheal problems worldwide.”

The doctors predict that in the future, they will be able to grow more complex organs, such as hearts and intestines. However, they warn that this is still a few years away.