Man Gets World's First 'Artificial Airway' Transplant

French doctors said Thursday they were delighted at a medical first in which a 78-year-old man was given a section of artificial airway to save a lung afflicted by bronchial cancer.

The bronchi are the main tubes for taking air from the trachea to the two sides of the lung.

In cases of early, non-metastasizing cancer of the bronchus, surgeons typically remove a whole lung, as well as the bronchus itself, if the tumor is located in the center of the organ.

In more than a quarter of cases, this leads to death within three months of the operation.

A team led by thoracic and vascular surgeon Emmanuel Martinod removed the diseased part of the bronchus and grafted a replacement, thus saving the lung.

The transplant, carried out in a three-hour operation on October 28 2009, entailed a small metal tube-shaped frame, or stent, which supported a section of artery taken from a deceased donor and frozen in a tissue bank.

The advantage of aortal tissue is that it does not require anti-rejection drugs, which are not recommended for cancer patients, whose weakened immune system is less able to combat infection.

"The patient is doing very well," Martinod, a professor at the Avicenne Hospital in eastern Paris, told a press conference.