Spanish surgeons have performed the worlds first transplant using a tissue-engineered organ. A windpipe grown from the patients own stem-cells was transplanted allowing the medical team to return 30-year-old Claudia Castillo to perfect health. Without the procedure, she would have lost a lung due to tuberculosis. Five months later, she is able to lead a normal life once more.
Scientists in Bristol grew the organ for transplant, tailoring it to Ms Castillo’s immune system. This means that the transplant is also the first to not require anti-rejection drugs. They began with a donor windpipe, or trachea, and then used chemicals to wash away any traces of the original cells, leaving only a framework of fibrous protein. Adult stem cells, which can be grown into many other types of cells, were taken from her bone marrow, and encouraged to grow on the framework which was placed inside a rotating bio reactor.
In conjunction with cells from her original organ, these cells coated the new trachea in just four days, ready to be implanted. Professor Paolo Macchiarini of the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona performed the operation last June:
“I was very much afraid. Before this, we had been doing this work only on pigs.
“But as soon as the donor trachea came out of the bioreactor it was a very positive surprise.”
He was not the only one to be afraid. As is understandable with a never-before performed procedure, the patient had some nerves as well:
“I was scared. I had the illness for four years and in January they told me they had to operate,” said Ms Castillo.
“He told me that it was a trial that had never been carried out before and that this would be the first in the world.”
The resounding success of the operation put all fears to rest, however. Ms Castillo encourages the team to continue the work, and help others in the same way as her. Professor Martin Birchall, who helped grow the new trachea and is professor of surgery at the University of Bristol, certainly plans to. He believes that in 20 years time, nearly any organ for transplant could be grown in this way:
“This will represent a huge step change in surgery.
“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.”