A man who had a cancer-stricken windpipe can now anticipate a normal life expectancy after doctors replaced that windpipe with a lab-made organ freeing him of the cancer.
The Wall Street Journal called the cancer cure development a landmark achievement for regenerative medicine, and further reported that the replacement of an entirely synthetic and permanent windpipe was never done successfully before the June 9 procedure.
The researchers haven't yet published the details in a scientific journal, the Wall Street Journal reported.
He was condemned to die, Paolo Macchiarini, a professor of regenerative surgery who carried out the procedure at Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal. We now plan to discharge him [Friday].
The newspaper said doctors identified the patient as a 36-year-old Eritrean man, a father of two, studying geology in Iceland.
When surgery and radiation treatments didn't stop the cancerous growth in his windpipe, and the tumor reached a length of about six centimeters, almost blocking the trachea, or windpipe, completely it was hard for him to breathe, according to the article.
The man had no suitable donor windpipe available, and was left with the option of trying to build one from scratch. Macchiarini had successfully transplanted cadaver-based windpipes in 10 patients, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The windpipe is described as a hollow tube, about 4.5 inches long, leading to the lungs. It has a scaffold that acts like a skeleton for the organ and it consists of tissues such as cartilage and muscle, according to the Wall Street Journal article. The article further stated that a team led by Alexander Seifalian of University College London used plastic materials and nanotechnology to make an artificial version of the scaffold that's closely modeled on the shape and size of the man's windpipe in the lab.
Researchers at Harvard Bioscience Inc. of Holliston, Mass., made a bioreactor, a shoe-box-size device similar to a spinning rotisserie machine; placed the artificial scaffold on it; and stem cells extracted from the patient's bone marrow were dripped onto the revolving scaffold for two days, the newspaper reported. It further reported that chemicals were added to the stem cells to persuade them to differentiate into tissue that make up the windpipe.
About 48 hours after the transplant, appropriate cells began populating the artificial windpipe, which started functioning like a natural one, the article stated. The patient's immune system didn't reject it because the cells used to seed the artificial windpipe came from his own body, according to the article.
The patient has made a speedy recovery, which is said to be a milestone in the exploration to make new body parts for transplantation or for treating diseases, as it offers a possible treatment option for thousands of patients suffering from tracheal cancer or other dangerous conditions affecting the windpipe, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Wall Street Journal said Macchiarini plans to use the same windpipe-transplant technique on three more patients, two from the U.S. and a nine-month-old child from North Korea who was born without a trachea.
It's yet another demonstration that what was once considered hype [in the field of tissue engineering] is becoming a life-changing moment for patients, Alan Russell, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, told the newspaper. Russell wasn't involved in the latest operation.
The Wall Street Journal said Russell cautioned about using this technique to build more-complex organs, as while tissue engineering can help to build hollow organs such as a windpipe, it will likely prove a bigger challenge for creating the heart, which has much thicker tissue.
In 2006, researchers told how they had implanted lab-grown bladders into children and teens with spina bifida, a birth defect, the newspaper reported. And in 2008, members of a team that included Macchiarini said they had given a patient a new windpipe made partly from her own cells, and partly from scaffolding material taken from a cadaver, according to the Wall Street Journal article.
It further reported that the newest experiment proves that a fully functioning windpipe can be manufactured in the lab without using a cadaver.
It makes all the difference, Macchiarini told the Wall Street Journal. If the patient has a malignant tumor in the windpipe, you can't wait months for a donor to come along.