Surgeons in Sweden have carried out the world’s first synthetic organ transplant. Scientists in London created an artificial windpipe which was then coated in stem cells from the patient. Crucially, the technique does not need a donor, and there is no risk of the organ being rejected. The surgeons stress a windpipe can also be made within days. The 36-year-old cancer patient is doing well a month after the operation.
Scientists at University College London were able to craft a perfect copy of Mr Beyene’s trachea and two main bronchi out of glass. This was then flown to Sweden and soaked in a solution of stem cells taken from the patient’s bone marrow. After two days, the millions of holes in the porous windpipe had been seeded with the patient’s own tissue.
Dr Alex Seifalian and his team used this fragile structure to create a replacement for the patient, whose own windpipe was ravaged by an inoperable tumour. Despite aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the cancer had grown to the size of a golf ball and was blocking his breathing. Without a transplant he would have died.
During a 12-hour operation Professor Macchiarini removed all of the tumor and the diseased windpipe and replaced it with the tailor-made replica. Professor Macchiarini said this was the real breakthrough. “Thanks to nanotechnology, this new branch of regenerative medicine, we are now able to produce a custom-made windpipe within two days or one week. This is a synthetic windpipe. The beauty of this is you can have it immediately. There is no delay. This technique does not rely on a human donation.”