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Stem Cells Used In Trachea Transplant

March 21, 2010

British Italian doctors said they have carried out groundbreaking surgery to help rebuild the windpipe of a 10-year-old boy by using stem cells developed from his own body.

Doctors at London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital implanted the boy with a donor trachea that had been stripped of its cells and injected with his own.  The operation took place last week and lasted nearly nine hours.

Doctors expect the boy’s bone marrow stem cells to begin transforming themselves over the next month into tracheal cells.  This process could lead to a revolution in regenerative medicine.

The boy’s immune system is not expected to reject the new organ because the cells are derived from his own tissue.

“This procedure is different in a number of ways, and we believe it’s a real milestone,” Professor Martin Birchall, head of translational regenerative medicine at University College London, told the AFP new agency.

“It is the first time a child has received stem cell organ treatment, and it’s the longest airway that has ever been replaced.”

He said that more clinical trials were needed to demonstrate that the process worked.  However, if it did then it could lead to other organs, such as the larynx or esophagus, being transplanted in hospitals around the world.

The boy was born with a life-threatening condition known as long segment tracheal stenosis, which causes a tiny windpipe not to grow.  The team of doctors said the effect of this condition is like breathing through a straw.

The boy’s doctors called in Professor Paolo Macchiarini, a stem cell pioneer at the Careggi University Hospital in Florence. 

Two years ago in Spain, Macchiarini led 30-year-old Claudia Castillo to surgery to be the first person to receive a transplant organ created from stem cells.

However, in her case the tissue was developed outside her body.  It is far less complicated to grow stem cells within the body.  The boy is only the second patient and the first child to have a procedure like this.

Professor Martin Elliot, a cardiothoracic surgeon and the director of tracheal services at Great Ormond Street, said the boy was recovering well.

“The child is extremely well. He’s breathing completely for himself and speaking, and he says it’s easier for him to breathe than it has been for many years,” Elliott said.

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