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First synthetic windpipe transplanted in Sweden

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07:25 CEST+02:00
An international team of surgeons have successfully carried out the world's first transplant of a synthetic windpipe, the Stockholm hospital where the groundbreaking operation took place announced on Thursday.

On June 9th, a 36-year-old man suffering from late stage tracheal cancer, received a new trachea, or windpipe, made from a synthetic scaffold and covered with his own stem cells, the Karolinska University Hospital in the Stockholm suburb of Huddinge said in a statement.

The so-called regenerative medical procedure could, according to the hospital, revolutionise the field of trachea transplants, making them far more accessible.

"Transplantations of tissue engineered windpipes with synthetic scaffolds in combination with the patient's own stem cells as a standard procedure means that patients will not have to wait for a suitable donor organ," it pointed out.

This would be especially beneficial to children, "since the availability of donor tracheas is much lower than for adult patients," it said, stressing that having quick access to operations would in turn give patients a greater chance of recovery.

The transplant team was led by professor Paolo Macchiarini of Karolinska and included professor Alexander Seifalian of the University College London, who designed and built the artificial windpipe.

Researchers at Harvard Bioscience meanwhile made a special bioreactor used to seed the scaffold with the patient's stem cells, which were allowed to grow on the synthetic windpipe for two days before the transplant took place.

"Because the cells used to regenerate the trachea were the patient's own, there has been no rejection of the transplant and the patient is not taking immunosuppressive drugs," Karolinska said, adding that the man was "well on

the way to full recovery and will be discharged from the hospital tomorrow

(Friday)."

The synthetic trachea had been used as a last possible option, according to the team, since the man's tumour had despite radiation treatment grown so large it was threatening to block his entire windpipe and there was no suitable donor available.

Macchiarini had already performed successful transplants of stem cell engineered tracheas, but in those cases the windpipes were taken from donors and then seeded with the transplant patient's stem cells.

"This trachea had a very complex, three-dimensional form," Macchiarini said to Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).

He explained that there are many benefits to using nano-material.

"It can be made specifically for each patient and it can be used straight away as you don't have to go through the long process of sterilizing it the way you do with tracheas from deceased patients," he said to DN.

Macchiarini, who has been a member of the staff at the Swedish hospital since February, was the only doctor who wanted to take on the challenge of this particular case - but he thinks that this kind of procedure will become more common.

"In the future this procedure will be performed in hospitals everywhere," he said to DN.

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