Nearly 42 years ago, history was made when the world's first artificial heart was implanted in a 47-year-old patient dying of heart failure. The device kept him alive for three days while he waited for a human heart transplant
. While this event was certainly a remarkable milestone, medical science has taken gigantic leaps
since then. Now, for the first time, a patient has received a synthetic windpipe created from his very own stem cells. No human donor tissue was involved.Creating a synthetic organ without donor cells.
In a London laboratory, scientists created a trachea using a Y-shaped framework made of spongy, flexible polymers. The new trachea mimicked the structure of the human form. After the framework was developed, the new organ was bathed with the patient's own stem cells in order to get the cells to grow on the spongy material. David Greene, president of Harvard bioscience, developed the stem cell solution with the purpose to “seed” the synthetic trachea –just like a new lawn is seeded – to grow on the new structure. Over time, the patient’s stem cells were growing inside and outside of the structure so that it actually became a living organ. Once the cells were thriving on the polymer form, the patient received his artificial trachea.
His body accepted the new organ and he is doing well. Before this technology became available, artificial organs were made from donor tissue combined with stem cells from the recipient. Though the results were often good, doctors and patients were still dependent on organ donation, which can be a lengthy waiting process. By contrast, creating the synthetic trachea took 10 to 12 days.The controversy.
Research in this area is flourishing. Just earlier this year, regenerative medicine
scientists reported they had created five urethras in the time span between March of 2004 and July of 2007. The process involved using a patient’s bladder tissue and growing the cells onto a mesh urethra-shaped structure. However, critics have voiced that this new technology could lead to human cloning.
But Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, professor of regenerative medicine at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, says artificial organs made with the recipient's own stem cells opens the door for future transplant in the relatively new field of regenerative medicine. “It's a beautiful international collaboration,” he said about the combined efforts of doctors and researchers in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. “As scientists and clinicians work together, we can help humanity.”