Medical first as toddler receives lifesaving windpipe transplant made from stem cells from her own bone marrow

By Dave Andrusko

Darryl Warren and Lee Young-mi visit their 2-year-old daughter, Hannah Warren, in a post-op room at the Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria after having received a new windpipe in a landmark transplant operation on April 9, 2013. JIM CARLSON / OSF SAINT FRANCIS MEDICAL CENTER

Darryl Warren and Lee Young-mi visit their 2-year-old daughter, Hannah Warren, in a post-op room at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria after having received a new windpipe in a landmark transplant operation on April 9, 2013.
JIM CARLSON / OSF SAINT FRANCIS MEDICAL CENTER

“Groundbreaking” is often overused in describing advances in medical treatments, but the surgical creation of a windpipe for a little girl born without one certain merits the superlative.

Hannah Warren, now 2 ½, was born without a trachea, a condition that is over time virtually 100 percent fatal. The New York Times reports that since birth, Hannah has lived in a newborn intensive care unit in a Korean hospital. She breathed through a tube inserted in her mouth.

Dr. Paolo Macchiarini led the team that performed nine hours of surgery which took place April 9th but not announced until yesterday. All of his previous five windpipe implants similar to Hannah’s were performed on adults. The surgery was another example of the successful use of adult stem cells.

Henry Fountain of the Times reported that

“To make Hannah’s windpipe, Dr. Macchiarini’s team made a half-inch diameter tube out of plastic fibers, bathed it in a solution containing stem cells taken from the child’s bone marrow and incubated it in a shoebox-size device called a bioreactor.

“Doctors are not sure exactly what happens after implantation, but think that the stem cells signal the body to send other cells to the windpipe, which then sort out so the appropriate tissues grow on the inside and outside of the tube. Because the windpipe uses only the child’s own cells, there is no need for drugs to suppress the patient’s immune system to avoid rejection of the implant.”

NRL News Today interviewed Dr. David Prentice who heaped praise on the surgery performed at Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

“This is indeed a special moment, to use this adult stem cell technique to help such a young girl,” he said. “Dr. Macchiarini has used the technique before on several older patients, including cancer patients to save their lives, and the results have been largely successful, but this is the youngest patient to receive a bioengineered trachea.”

Readily acknowledging the experimental nature of surgery, Prentice nonetheless added, “We certainly wish her well, and hope that this story will continue to open people’s eyes to the tremendous utility of adult stem cells to provide healing right now.”

According to Fountain, three weeks out from the surgery, Hannah was “acting playfully with her doctors and nurses, at one point smiling and waving goodbye to a group of visitors.”

Dr. Macchiarini, he wrote, “described a look of befuddlement on the child’s face when she realized that the mouth tube was gone and she could put her lips together for the first time. ‘It was beautiful,’ he said

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