Boy (10) 'grows' new windpipe in stem cell op
A 10-year-old boy has undergone pioneering surgery in which his own body worked as a "bioreactor" to help a donated windpipe, seeded with his own stem cells, grow into a fully functioning organ.
The boy is the first child in the world to undergo the revolutionary transplantation.
The development takes transplant surgery a step closer to the goal of replacing damaged or worn-out organs with functioning replacements that are not rejected by the body, which are in increasing demand as life expectancy grows.
It also opens up the prospect of treating damaged organs with stem cells to stimulate self-repair, potentially avoiding the need for a transplant.
The nine-hour operation was carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London by a British and Italian team of specialists. The British boy has not been identified, at his family's request, but doctors said he was out of bed, breathing freely and speaking.
"He says it is easier to breathe than it has been for many years," said Professor Martin Elliott, the surgeon who carried out the operation.
In a previous similar case, a team in Italy transplanted a trachea (windpipe) into a 30-year-old woman, Claudia Castillo, which had first been stripped of its cells by an enzyme process and then "customised" with her own stem cells so it was not rejected by her body. The customised trachea was grown in a bioreactor in the laboratory.
But in the case of the British boy, instead of growing the customised donor trachea in the laboratory, it was transplanted immediately after being seeded with stem cells so that the patient's body acted as the "bioreactor" to help it grow into a fully functioning organ. This refinement of the technique makes it quicker and cheaper, so it can be applied in hospitals around the world.
Professor Martin Birchall said: "I believe this is a real milestone. Only a few hundred children and adults will benefit directly from this operation but we can immediately apply the technique in other settings."
The doctors said it would be months before it was clear whether the operation had been a success. The 10-year-old was born with a windpipe measuring just one millimetre across and could not breathe.
He has had repeated operations to patch it and hold it open but suffered a serious haemorrhage in November. He had run out of options and the transplant was his only hope.