A WOMAN has become the first patient in the world to receive an organ created in a laboratory, in a pioneering operation that could change transplant surgery, doctors said yesterday.
Claudia Castillo's body part was grown using her own stem cells harvested from bone marrow.
Professor Anthony Hollander, part of the team behind the breakthrough, described it as an example of "stem cell science becoming stem cell medicine".
Using Ms Castillo's stem cells to create a new airway for her means there are none of the tissue-rejection problems that are a major issue for transplant surgery and which usually mean recipients have to take powerful drugs for the rest of their lives.
Researchers from the UK, Italy and Spain worked together in the extraordinarily complex procedure to grow tissue from the 30-year-old mother of two to fashion a new bronchus – a branch of the windpipe – and carry out the transplant operation.
Scientists believe the same approach will be used in years to come to create engineered replacements for other damaged organs. In five years, they hope to begin clinical trials in which laboratory-made voice boxes are implanted into patients with cancer of the larynx.
Professor Martin Birchall, a member of the team from the University of Bristol, said: "What we're seeing today is just the beginning. This is the first time a tissue-engineered whole organ has been transplanted into a patient.
"I reckon in 20 years' time, it will be the commonest operation surgeons will be doing. I think it will completely transform the way we think about surgery, health and disease."
He predicted the technique could be applied to other hollow organs similar in structure, such as the bowel, bladder and reproductive tract.
Colombian-born Ms Castillo, from Barcelona, Spain, had suffered a serious tuberculosis infection that ravaged her airways, leaving her short of breath and unable to carry out the simplest tasks.
Disease had caused her windpipe, or trachea, to collapse at the point where it entered her left lung.
A series of complex steps pushing the boundaries of medical science led to the transplant operation, performed on 12 June by Professor Paolo Macchiarini at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona.
A section of windpipe was taken from a female donor who had died and the trachea was stripped of its cells, leaving only connective tissue. Stem cells from Ms Castillo's bone marrow were then grown in the laboratory. Next, the donor trachea had to be "seeded" with two different kinds of cells – those made in the laboratory and those derived from tissue taken from Ms Castillo's nose and healthy airways.