Surgeons have, for the first time, successfully transplanted an entire organ grown using the patient’s own stem cells. Claudia Castillo, a 30-year-old Colombian who had tuberculosis, received the windpipe transplant in June and is in “perfect health.”
Using strong chemicals and enzymes, they “washed away” the donor’s own cells.
The project began when doctors acquired a windpipe from a recently deceased donor. Using strong chemicals and enzymes, they “washed away” the donor’s own cells, leaving a “tissue scaffold made of the fibrous protein collagen.”
They then used cells from Castillo’s original (injured) windpipe, along with stem cells from her bone marrow, to “coat” the donated windpipe scaffold. By the time the organic “construction” was done, the windpipe appeared and acted just like any other healthy windpipe.
Follow-up tests after the surgery showed the lab-grown windpipe to be virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding airways. It had also developed its own blood supply.
“We are terribly excited by these results,” said the surgeon, Paolo Macchiarini. Particularly inspiring is that the surgery required no anti-rejection drugs, and there are no signs of rejection even several months after the surgery.
Martin Birchall, a surgery professor at the University of Bristol who helped with the project, emphasized, “Surgeons can now start to see and understand the potential for adult stem cells and tissue engineering to radically improve their ability to treat patients with serious diseases.” Birchall added that within two decades, most organ transplants could be produced in the same manner.
This exciting success is a reminder that the medical promise of stem cell research does not require the harvesting and destruction of human embryos—the impression given by some proponents of embryonic stem cell research.
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