Stem cell-seeded windpipe patient healthy

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A woman who received a donor windpipe seeded with her own stem cells in groundbreaking surgery five years ago is healthy, says a report, hailing progress in tissue engineering.

Donor windpipes are often rejected by the recipient's immune system, while patients also suffer the uncontrolled die-off of cells, called necrosis, and bleeding.

But having the stem cells come from the patient reduces the risk of attack by the immune system.

The procedure performed on Claudia Castillo involved removing the cells from a section of donor windpipe and grafting cartilage cells grown from her own stem cells onto it, as well as other cells taken from a healthy part of her windpipe.

"The recipient continues to enjoy a good quality of life, and has not experienced any immunological complications or rejection of the implanted airway," said a report published in The Lancet medical journal.

Castillo, then 30, had suffered from tuberculosis and received a new lease on life with the transplant.

She was discharged from hospital 10 days after the operation, but researchers said only a long-term follow-up of the patient could show how successful the operation had been.

Regular testing of key indicators

Now the surgical team, led by Paolo Macchiarini from Stockholm's Karolinska University Hospital, reports that the patient continues to enjoy "a normal social and working life".

"Moreover, regular testing of lung function, immunological response to the transplant, and other key indicators reveal that the recipient has retained good lung function and has not experienced any immunological complications."

Castillo had suffered some scarring around the graft area, which led to a narrowing of part of the airway and a persistent cough.

This was fixed with a stent a scaffold that holds the airway open, said a statement.

"These results confirm what we, and many patients, hoped at the time of the original operation: that tissue engineered transplants are safe and effective in the long term," Macchiarini added.

In a comment on the publication, Alan Russell of the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh said this was "the end of the beginning for tissue engineering".

In 2011, a 36-year-old Eritrean received the world's first transplant of an artificial windpipe seeded with his own stem cells.

Stem cells are immature cells that can differentiate into the specialised cells that comprise and maintain the human body.

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