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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

First synthetic windpipe transplant is a success

11 July 2011

By Dr Rebecca Robey

Appeared in BioNews 615

Surgeons have successfully transplanted a synthetic organ into a human for the first time. In a groundbreaking operation, a cancer patient's windpipe was replaced with an artificial replica that had been grown using his own stem cells.

An international team of doctors and scientists created the artificial windpipe without using any tissue from an organ donor. As well as cutting waiting times for transplants, this technique will be important in cases where a suitable donor can't be found, which can be a particular problem for children. Furthermore, the use of the patient's own stem cells meant there was no risk of it being rejected, and he did not need to take immunosuppressive drugs.

The 36-year-old man had an aggressive tumour that had not responded to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and it was inhibiting his breathing. With no suitable donor organ available the medical team decided to try the new technology. 'He was condemned to die', Professor Paolo Macchiarini, the lead surgeon, told the Wall Street Journal, only a month after the 12-hour operation. 'We now plan to discharge him'.

Professor Macchiarini, who works at the Karolinska University Hospital, Sweden, had previously carried out similar procedures, but always using the windpipe of an organ donor coated with the patient's stem cells. In this case, a 3D scan was taken of the patient's windpipe and a team of scientists at University College London (UCL) used the images to build an identical 'scaffold' out of a specially designed material called a nanocomposite polymer.

Stem cells taken from the patient's bone marrow were dripped onto the scaffold in a device developed by researchers at Harvard Bioscience Inc., USA. After two days these cells had populated the entire scaffold structure, and were then treated with chemicals to encourage them to form the right types of tissue. A similar technique has also been used to grow bladder tissue for use in reconstructive surgery.

Professor Alexander Seifalian, who led the research team at UCL said: 'What makes this procedure different is it's the first time that a wholly engineered synthetic windpipe has been made and successfully transplanted, making it an important milestone for regenerative medicine. We expect there to be many more exciting applications for the novel polymers we have developed'.

Remarkably, the whole process only took a few days. Professor Macchiarini commented: '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… The beauty of it is you have it immediately. There is no delay'.


Guardian (PA) | 08 July 2011
Wired | 08 July 2011
Wall Street Journal | 08 July 2011
BBC News | 08 July 2011
UCL press release | 07 July 2011


14 April 2014 - by Nicola Davis 
A lab in London where scientists grow human noses and windpipes has opened its doors to the press... [Read More]
22 April 2013 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
Human stem cells have been converted into bone cells using a technique called 'nanokicking'... [Read More]
18 June 2012 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
A ten-year-old Swedish girl has become the first recipient of a donor vein treated with a patient's own stem cells... [Read More]
12 September 2011 - by Daniel Malynn 
Presenter Liz Bonnin investigates stem cells, and their pioneering use in organ donation. Bonnin's introduction the segment covers briefly, but accurately, the 30 years worth of history of stem cell research, and the controversy around embryonic stem cell research... [Read More]
18 July 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Canadian scientists have identified a master stem cell that is capable of becoming any of the different types of cell found in blood. The discovery offers hope of alternative treatments for people who would normally require bone marrow transplants to replenish their blood supply, for example those with cancer or blood disorders... [Read More]

23 May 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
IPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells from mice can be recognised by their own immune system and destroyed, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have found... [Read More]
18 April 2011 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
Scientists at Edinburgh University have grown kidney structures in the laboratory in a step they hope will lead to organs being grown for transplant patients from their own stem cells... [Read More]
16 August 2010 - by Marianne Neary 
An 11-year-old boy has returned home after becoming the first child to undergo a pioneering surgery which used his own stem cells to rebuild his windpipe. The operation, which took place in March this year at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, has been hailed as 'a success'... [Read More]
22 March 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
A UK child has become the world's first to receive a full windpipe transplant using an organ built from his own stem cells... [Read More]
23 November 2008 - by Adam Fletcher 
By Adam Fletcher: A Colombian woman has become the world's first recipient of a windpipe grown in part from her own cells. Published in the Lancet journal last week, the team of surgeons from Spain, the UK and Italy, orchestrated the world's first tissue-engineered whole organ transplant. Professor Paolo Macchiarini... [Read More]

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