A recent news story back in July proved a real eye-opener for me. For the first time, a patient in Sweden received a synthetic traquea that had been created in a lab with the patient's own stem cells and without using human donor tissue. Previously other transplants of this type had been carried out but either using a segment of donor windpipe or tissue only, not an organ, such as one a patient with tuberculosis received last year.
The patient had been suffering with late stage tracheal cancer at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. This form is cancer is extremely rare, accounting for less than 1% of all cancers.
Doctors had exhausted every treatment available, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. His tumor had almost blocked his windpipe, but rather than waiting for a transplant, doctors suggested growing an organ. Scientists created a Y-shaped framework for the new trachea, modeling it after the specific shape of the patient's windpipe. The form was made of polymers that had a spongy and flexible texture. Stiff rings around the tube mimicked the structure of a human trachea. The form was then bathed in a solution containing the patient's stem cells. Once the cells were thriving on the form, the artificial trachea was implanted nto the patient.
His body accepted the new trachea, and he even had a cough reflex two days after the surgery. However revolutionary this area of research is, it remains somewhat controversial in medicine, because critics say this could lead to human cloning.
Success stories like these prove that lives can really be saved using pioneering treatments involving stem cells.