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Building a Windpipe from Stem Cells

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 31 May 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Stem Cells Windpipe Rebuild Airways

Stem cells have been touted as the treatment of the future for many diseases but perhaps surprisingly, they have also made the news recently for their ability to rebuild areas of the body that have suffered from tissue destruction.

These types of procedures have previously been difficult and unsuccessful ones, partly due to immunological rejection of tissue transplanted from someone else as well as the mechanics of mimicking function and form for real human tissue.

Creating a Windpipe

For one patient, this treatment was not only a reality but also a live-saving one. Her trachea – or windpipe – was essentially 'rebuilt' using her own stem cells. The newly built trachea then gave her an airway that functioned properly, which ultimately saved the patient's life.

Functioning Windpipe

The airway had all the mechanical properties that are necessary to ensure the woman was able to breathe properly. In fact, when doctors did testing on her lung functioning a couple of months after the transplant, she performed at the high end of the normal result for a woman of her age.

Disease and Tissue Destruction

The woman had previously suffered from tuberculosis, which left her in the hospital as she struggled with breathing difficulties. At the young age of thirty, she had two children and couldn't adequately care for them or function on a day-to-day basis. Other methods of trying to rebuild or replace parts of the airway haven't been successful and removing one of her lungs still carried an enormous risk of complications.

Responding to Urgent Need

Since her case was a very urgent one and the research team involved had experienced success in laboratory work with tissue transplantation, they decided to create a new airway using the woman's own stem cells.

The team started out with a piece of trachea from a donor who had just died and then they performed a procedure over the next month and a half to remove all traces of donor cells. The woman who was set to receive the rebuilt trachea had bone marrow stem cells from her body extracted and grown in the laboratory before the trachea was finished with her own cells and then transplanted into her body.

The results were positive and exciting for everyone involved, not only because the procedure restored the woman's airway functioning but also because it signalled renewed hope for others who suffer from tissue destruction due to injury or disease. The woman's ability to perform daily tasks when she previously was challenged as well as her ability to now mother her children without restriction has been a positive outcome for everyone.

Advancing Stem Cell Research

This accomplishment is particularly exciting for researchers because it shows that stem cells can effectively rebuild damaged tissue in the body. The risk of immunological rejection is dealt with because the adult stem cells are taken from the recipient's own body.

There is also no need for the recipient to take special immune-compromising drugs to reduce the risk of rejection, which further increases the success and health of the recipient transplantation. Hopefully, we will see more success in tissue transplantation for future disease sufferers.

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@VeryMatt - I'm sorry to hear this, she would have to speak to her GP, as it stem cell treatments are still at the clinical trial stage.
ExploreStemCells - 3-Jun-15 @ 11:23 AM
My mum has been left with a Trachea Esophageal fistula after a non Hodgkin linfoma. The linfoma is complitaly gone but the fistula is still there and surgeons don't known how to deal with it. Please, do you know if stem cells could save my mums life as she is otherwise a very stong woman with no other helth problem. Thanks
VeryMatt - 31-May-15 @ 2:50 PM
Hi My son was born with a condition called as Trachea Esophageal Fistula which was repaired the next day he was born and esophageal Atresea this was repaired 3 months after he was born...he is now 15 months he has a stricture in the site of operation where the scar tissue is...can this scar tissue and stricture be healed using stem cells? As he is suffering from reflux as well... can stem cells help him in anyway?
Dee - 21-Apr-13 @ 6:40 PM
The windpipe story is of interest to me. My mother of 67, due to some unknown infection, has lost all the cilia from her windpipe. Her health is suffering badly and getting worse. Without the cilia she cannot clear her lungs and is plagued with constant and debilitating coughs. Is stem cell therapy an option in any form?
Mart - 27-Jan-13 @ 9:30 PM
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