The world's first lab-made windpipe (pictured), created from a patient's own stem cells, was successfully transplanted at Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm on June 9, 2011. The patient, a 36-year-old man from Eritrea, had late stage tracheal cancer that had almost fully blocked his windpipe. With no suitable donor windpipes available, this synthetic windpipe was his only option, according to the hospital.
Scientists from the University College London designed and built the synthetic, "y-shaped" windpipe using a CT scan of the patient as a guide. They made a glass mold of the windpipe scaffold and coated it with stem cells taken from the patient's bone marrow and nose. New cells grew on this scaffold, placed in a bioreactor - a device specially designed to simulate natural tissue growth - for two days before the transplant.
At left, Claire Crowley and Professor Seifalian of the UCL hold up the synthetic windpipes.
Professor Paolo Macchiarini - who has been involved in previous windpipe transplants - led the international surgery team throughout the operation, the first to involve a man-made organ.
Because the cells used to regenerate the trachea were the patient's own, the transplant was not rejected - and the patient didn't need to take any anti-rejection drugs.
In this picture, the windpipe is inserted into the patient.
This "is the first synthetic tissue engineered windpipe that has been successfully transplanted," Macchiarini said. He predicts the man will make a "full recovery."
Experts say synthetic structures could be used to fashion simple organs like the windpipe, esophagus or bladder, but more complicated organs like kidneys or hearts are years away from being made in a laboratory. The makers of this synthetic windpipe say its best use right now is for patients with tracheal cancer or cancer of the throat - cancers that are often diagnosed late and have few good treatment options.