Doctors Use Stem Cells To Grow Vein For Young Patient

Brett Smith for

A successful transplant operation in Sweden points to a medical future where your doctor can grow a transplant organ from your own cells, making organ donation a thing of the past.

Doctors have now successfully transplanted a vein grown with a patient’s own stem cells without complications or the need for immunosuppressants, according to a report published this week in The Lancet. The patient was a 10-year-old girl in Sweden who was suffering from a potentially fatal blockage in the vein which drains blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver.

Last March, a team of doctors at the University of Gothenburg decided to grow the new blood vessel used to bypass the blocked vein instead of using an invasive neck or leg surgery to extract one of her own.

“The young girl in this report was spared the trauma of having veins harvested from the deep neck or leg with the associated risk of lower limb disorders, and avoided the need for a liver or multivisceral transplantation,” Martin Birchall and George Hamilton of University College London wrote in The Lancet.

To start the procedure, doctors took a three-inch section of a cadaver groin vein and stripped it of all living cells, leaving only an inert protein structure. The team then injected it with blood-forming stem cells taken from the girl´s bone marrow. After growing the vein for two weeks in an incubator, the stem cells had multiplied and converted into vein wall cells, to create a biologically-engineered replacement. The new vein was then implanted into the patient a year ago.

“The new stem-cells derived graft resulted not only in good blood flow rates and normal laboratory test values but also, in strikingly improved quality of life for the patient,” the report said.

In noting the success of the transplant, the doctors reported that the patient grew 2 inches and gained 11 pounds over the following year. In addition, her parents said that she was more physically active, had improved articulated speech, and had concentrated better on her studies.

The only major complication was the slight constriction of the vein nine months after the operation, which was corrected in a follow-up procedure. During the course of following up on the operation, scientists found no antibodies for the donor vein in the girl’s blood. This meant her body was not rejecting the transplant because it was recognized as being made of her own cells.

The successful operation marks the latest step in the evolution of transplant technology. Over the past 40 years, the field has gone from using artificial materials to chemically-treated bovine tissues to grafting tissue from patient´s own body.

The Swedish team said the girl´s successful operation opened “interesting new areas of research”, including the possibility of creating bio-engineered replacement blood vessels for heart bypass surgery patients.

The operation also brings attention to the burgeoning field of ℠regenerative medicine´. Two years ago, a 10-year-old British boy became the first child in the world to receive a stem-cell grown trachea. The windpipe was also based on a scaffold taken from an organ donor.