Monday, 18 February 2013

Growing organs from stem cells

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, Professor of Regenerative Surgery at Karolinska Institutet is famous for being the first man to grow (and transplant) a fully working human organ using adult stem cells. That was back in 2008 and since then five similar operations have been carried out. A press release that just came out informs us that this is only the beginning.

Macchiarini now plans to use the same technique to create even more complex organs, including the oesophagus and diaphragm. He has also been experimenting on brain regeneration in mice and rats.

Video featuring one of the regenerative operations carried out by Paolo Macchiarini

Part of his work will be presented to a seminar at the scientific AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston which will be held at Hynes Convention Center, Boston, room 207 Monday 18, February, 09:45 am - 11:15 am.

According to the PR, Macchiarini will talk about the following topics:
  • His plans to operate on a 2 year-old girl, born without a trachea. The girl has spend her whole life in intensive care, breathing through a tube placed in her oesophagus. Hopefully the new, stem cell-grown trachea will allow the girl to leave the hospital and enjoy a normal life. This will be the first time that the operation will be carried in a young patient and also the first time in which there is no original trachea for replacement, as in all previous cases the patients did have initially a fully functional trachea (which was damaged by trauma or disease)
  • His plans to recreate and transplant the oesophagus, which is a more complex organ than the trachea since it has muscle tissue.
  • His experiments on rodents, in the field of brain regeneration using stem cells. His studies have implications on patients presenting with brain damage caused by traffic accidents, gunshot wounds or surgery. According to the PR, Macchiarini wil report positive results.
  • The cases of two people presenting with acute refractory lung failure. Both of the patients received a stem cell therapy which was followed by immediate functional improvement. The press release explains that although both patients did eventually die, their cases are the first to exhibit the fact that stem cells can be a viable option for treating certain damaged organs without resorting to the transplantation of new donor (or stem cell grown) organs. The patients died from multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.

The trachea (also known as windpipe), is a tube-like portion of the respiratory tract connecting the pharynx and larynx to the lungs, allowing the passage of air. 

Laryngoscopic view of interior of larynx. (Trachea labeled at bottom.)

Macchiarini, P., Birchall, M., Hollander, A., Mantero, S., & Conconi, M. (2009). Clinical transplantation of a tissue-engineered airway – Authors' reply The Lancet, 373 (9665), 718-719 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60431-1

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