A world first that could revolutionise organ transplants, doctors in Spain have replaced a woman's damaged windpipe using one created from adult stem cells in a laboratory.
Claudia Castillo, 30, a mother of two, is living a healthy life five months after receiving the transplant in Barcelona, her doctors reported in Lancet medical journal yesterday.
Scientists used "tissue engineering" to create the windpipe, or trachea — a technique that involved using a donor's windpipe as a biological "scaffold" for Ms Castillo's adult stem cells to grow around. The donor's trachea was essentially scrubbed clean with a high-tech detergent solution before being lined with stem cells taken from Ms Castillo's bone marrow and cultivated in a laboratory.
Stem cells are "master cells" that can be manipulated in a laboratory to become any other cell in the body. There are two types of stem cells, “adult” and “embryonic”. Embryonic stem cells come from an embryo. The taking of these cells is fatal but taking adult stems does not cause the death of the person. Adult stem cells are found in many parts of the body, the most common of these "adult stem cells” are found in the blood. There are similar cells in the liver, in nervous systems, and all around the body.
Ms Castillo, who had tuberculosis, was facing the loss of her left lung after the tube-like branch connecting it to the trachea became infected and collapsed beyond repair. Because Ms Castillo's new trachea was made from her own cells, she has not needed powerful drugs to prevent her body rejecting the organ. Avoiding the use of these drugs also means that, unlike other transplant patients, she will not be at increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
The use of adult stem cells seems to overcome the problem of immune rejection, which is a big problem with embryonic stem cell treatments.
Our bodies quickly recognise and try to kill off foreign tissues implanted in them (embryonic stem cells). By using cells from oneself (adult stem cells), the compatibility problem is avoided.
Scientists hailed the procedure as a medical milestone and predicted surgeons could regularly be replacing hearts with laboratory-grown organs within 20 years. The team behind the operation hopes to replicate the procedure to grow voice boxes within five years and says that from there the door would be open to use the technology to create any organ including a bladder, kidney or even a heart.
It looks like there is a bright future for the use of adult stem cells. Dr. David Reardon, Ph.D. Said that many have wondered at the insistence on funding for and pursuit of embryonic stem cell research given the fact that there is not even one embryonic stem cell therapy currently in use while adult stem cell therapies are used every day in the treatment of nearly a hundred different diseases.