Adult Stem Cells Used to Save Man from Terminal Tracheal Cancer

By Dave Andrusko

What a story, and what a remarkable testimony of the power of adult stem cells. A 36-year-old Swedish man, diagnosed with terminal tracheal cancer, returned home this week after being given a  new trachea grown entirely from his own stem cells using a synthetic scaffold in an operation that took place June 9.

“He was condemned to die,” said Paolo Macchiarini, a professor of regenerative surgery who carried out the procedure at Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital. “We now plan to discharge him [today].”

Two days prior to the operation, surgeons took bone marrow from the patient out of which they extracted stem cells for coating the artificial trachea,  the Wall Street Journal reported today.

“With the patient on the surgery table, Dr. Macchiarini and colleagues then added chemicals to the stem cells, persuading them to differentiate into tissue—such as bony cells—that make up the windpipe,” wrote the Journal’s Gautam Naik. “About 48 hours after the transplant, imaging and other studies showed appropriate cells in the process of populating the artificial windpipe, which had begun to function like a natural one. There was no rejection by the patient’s immune system, because the cells used to seed the artificial windpipe came from the patient’s own body.”

With a synthetic windpipe, because no death or donation is needed, the whole process is speeded up. “It makes all the difference,” Dr. Macchiarini told the Journal. “If the patient has a malignant tumor in the windpipe, you can’t wait months for a donor to come along.”

The surgery is the latest step in the pioneering work of Dr. Macchiarini. Last year we ran a story about how he transplanted a donor trachea (a section of windpipe) and chemically removed all of the donor’s cells. The cartilage scaffold left after the procedure was then bathed in the patient’s bone marrow adult stem cells prior to transplantation. Over a period of 2-3 months the adult stem cells cover the scaffold with new tissue, grown within the body of the patient. [www.nrlc.org/NewsToday/Windpipes.html]

“Tissue-engineered organs have also been constructed for patients by other teams, including development of new urethras as well as the construction of functional bladders,” writes Dr. David Prentice. “The research is not yet published.”

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