Young Girl Receives Lifesaving Windpipe Transplant Made From Her Stem Cells

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Jim Carlson / OSF Saint Francis Medical Center / handout / AP

Darryl Warren and Lee Young-mi visit their 2-year-old daughter, Hannah Warren.

Hannah Warren was born without a trachea but now has one made from plastic fibers and a stew of her own stem cells.

The 2-year-old Korean Canadian has spent every day of her life in intensive care, kept alive by a tube that substituted for the windpipe that was supposed to connect her mouth to her lungs. But nearly a month after her transplant, the toddler is mostly breathing on her own and is responding to doctors and nurses.

The surgery, pioneered by Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was only the sixth performed in the world, and Hannah was the youngest patient and first to receive the transplant in the U.S. The procedure was approved by the FDA as an experimental operation for patients with very little hope of survival; being born without a trachea is fatal in 99% of cases.

(MORE: Stem-Cell Miracle? New Therapies May Cure Chronic Conditions Like Alzheimer’s)

Macchiarini performed the nine-hour operation on April 9 at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois after carefully creating the windpipe using stem cells from Hannah’s bone marrow that were saturated over a matrix of plastic fibers shaped into a tube.

Exactly what happens to the windpipe after it is transplanted isn’t clear, but researchers believe that placing stem cells, which are capable of developing into different types of body cells, can pick up signals from their environment and integrate with existing tissues. Macchiarini told the New York Times that the body’s regenerative capabilities may help such bioengineered organs to integrate with existing tissues. Children may make the ideal patients for these procedures since they have natural and active abilities to heal and grow. “Hannah’s transplant has completely changed my thinking about regenerative medicine,” he told the Times, adding that he wants to conduct a clinical trial in the U.S.

According to the Associated Press, only about 1 in 50,000 children worldwide are born with a windpipe defect or without one. For these patients, and for others with defective or diseased organs, manipulating stem cells to generate healthy tissues or organs could be their only chance at survival.

(MORE: Cancer Patient Receives a Man-Made Windpipe)

Macchiarini performed all five of the previous transplants of the bioengineered windpipes; four of the patients have done well, while one, Christopher Lyles, who received his trachea in Stockholm, died. Last year, in describing Lyles’ operation, TIME’s Alice Park wrote:

Macchiarini has been perfecting the process of using stem cells to seed bioengineered scaffolds for organs like the trachea since 2008; in his first such procedure, he used a donor trachea to replace that of a Spanish woman, stripping the organ of its cells and coating it with the woman’s own stem cells. But using a completely synthetic, bioengineered matrix such as the one transplanted in Lyles, he says, makes the transplant safer for the patient, potentially sparing him the complications that can arise if he can’t accept the new organ.

Researchers have used similar stem-cell-seeding techniques to create other organs. Dr. Anthony Atala at Wake Forest University generated bladders and a urethra using scaffolds and patients’ stem cells.

Because of the small number of patients he has treated, his critics say it’s hard to determine how valid Macchiarini’s bioengineering technique is in treating patients like Hannah. But he plans to conduct a clinical trial to properly assess the risks and benefits of the procedure, and document how bodies react to the transplanted devices. Hopefully those trials will show that it’s possible to regenerate not just organs but hope as well.

MORE: Cancer Patient Gets World’s First Artificial Trachea

4 comments
Bioman
Bioman

More a question than a comment. Will she have to have repeat surgeries as she grows or will this tissue expand as needed?

LaxCircle
LaxCircle

Brilliant work done by Dr.Macchiarni and team. people like you inspire and gives hope to humanity.  Stem cell what a milestone in regenarative medicine. I hope i can work in the same field some day.

vaasa
vaasa like.author.displayName 1 Like

The innovators of the tracheal scaffold is NANOFIBER SOLUTIONS, a small company in Columbus, OH.  They have been working for several years with Dr. Macchiarini to develop synthetic tracheal scaffolds all free of charge to the patients.

Anecdatum
Anecdatum like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Amazing. Simply amazing. 


Modern medicine is an awesome thing. I can't even pretend to know what these parents have been going through for nearly 2 years, but here's hoping their lives will improve drastically from here and that they'll get to start living a more normal life as a family from here on out. Here's to the girl's full recovery and long-term health and well-being. And here's to the doctors and scientists doing this research with the power to fundamentally change lives for the better and reduce suffering.