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Girl receives first ever transplant of stem cell-treated vein

18 June 2012

By Dr Lucy Freem

Appeared in BioNews 661

A ten-year-old Swedish girl has become the first recipient of a donor vein treated with a patient's own stem cells.

The new vein replaces one that was recurrently blocked, restricting blood flow between her liver and intestine, reducing both her activity levels and quality of life.

The team, from the University of Gothenburg, took a hepatic portal vein from a deceased donor, stripped it of its original cells and coated this 'scaffold' with the girl's own stem cells.

Since receiving the new vein she has become healthier and more active, according to the researchers' report, published in The Lancet.

'She's fine, and according to her father, she's doing somersaults, going for long walks, and is a totally different child', Professor Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson of the University of Gothenburg told New Scientist.

Normally her condition is treated by harvesting a healthy vein from the patient's neck or leg for transplant into the liver, but these are very invasive procedures. The donor vein acted as a template to encourage stem cells to form muscle and surface tissues in the right places. Because these stem cells were from the girl's bone marrow, the vein was not rejected by her immune system and immunosuppressant drugs were not needed.

This technique was used successfully for a windpipe transplant in 2009, and Professor Anthony Hollander of the University of Bristol, who was a member of that team, told New Scientist he was delighted to see the method being used for veins.

However, clinical trials will be needed before this method can be widely-used and sufficient donor material could be an issue.

Professor Sumitran-Holdgersson hopes to address the latter by treating blood vessels from animals with human stem cells. Another option would be to use synthetic scaffolds. Researchers at Karolinska University in Sweden successfully transplanted a synthetic windpipe coated with a patient's own cells in July 2011.

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