Man Receives World’s First Stem-Cell Trachea

Through the incredible leaps of stem-cell technology, a 36 year-old cancer patient receives a lifesaver.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

We don't have a cure-all for cancer yet, but we've got the next best thing at this point: For the first time in history, a 36 year-old man with cancer in his windpipe has gotten a new trachea, grown entirely from his own stem cells. And it's saved his life.

The scientific leap took place over two days in a laboratory in Sweden, marking the very first time a completely synthetically grown organ has been transplanted into a patient. The synthetic trachea was created by using the patient's own stem cells to grow and collect on an artificial 'scaffold'. 

Windpipes have been grown in the past, from stem cells, but only using the collagen 'skeletons' of donated tracheas. The operation's success is the first major step towards a future that allows patients who need organ transplants to have them specially grown in a lab, instead of the perilous delays in waiting for a donor.

In a recent interview with the LA Times, Dr. Anthony Atala, a pioneer in the field who in 1999 transplanted the first of several synthetic bladders into young people with bladder disease, elaborates on the significance of the latest transplant and explains why some other organs will be more difficult to craft in the lab.

"There are several organs. We did the bladder," he explained. "We are 12 years out for using molds in bladders. We are seven years out in urethras, an experience just published. We showed that we transplanted urethras, using their own cells, but using molds."

There's hope for us yet – but despite the advancements in cancer treatment, the best treatment any person can take part in is preventative care: healthier eating, exercise and positive mindset. 

Photo: Karolinska University Hospital