Patient Saved By Synthetic Windpipe Transplant in Medical First

A man will be discharged from a Stockholm hospital Friday following an operation in which an entirely synthetic windpipe was transplanted for the first time, in an important advance for regenerative medicine.

The artificial organ, grown from stem cells from a 36-year-old cancer patient’s own bone marrow on a synthetic scaffold, is the first of its kind to have been grown without using any tissue from a deceased donor, The (London) Times reported.

The successful Swedish procedure, conducted by Paolo Macchiarini, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, marks a step forward in scientists’ ability to create replacement organs for transplant. It builds on a technique first used in 2008 to treat a Spanish woman, Claudia Castillo.

When Castillo became the first person to receive an artificial bronchus -- the tube that connects the windpipe to the lungs -- grown from her own stem cells, the organ was created by seeding stem cells on to a donated bronchus from which living tissue had been stripped away.

In the latest operation, scientists seeded stem cells from the patient, Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene, on to an artificial scaffold, eliminating the need for a donor. A team at University College London, led by Professor Alex Seifalian, used 3D scans of Beyene’s windpipe to create a scaffold that copied its structure precisely.

Macchiarini told the BBC, “Thanks to nanotechnology, this new branch of regenerative medicine, we are now able to produce a custom-made windpipe within two days or one week. This is a synthetic windpipe. The beauty of this is you can have it immediately. There is no delay. This technique does not rely on a human donation.”

Beyene, who had the operation a month ago, said, “I was very scared, very scared about the operation. But it was live or die.”