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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Custom made body part

In the medical field, new advances are always being made in the quest to repair and replace broken body parts.  This is the story of one of those new techniques.

Organ transplants have been performed for many decades.  It has always required strong medication to keep the body from rejecting the alien organ.  Until now.

In 2008, a Colombian woman named Claudia Castillo was the first to receive a new procedure in the area of transplantation.  She needed a new trachea.  Her original had been damaged from tuberculosis.  The doctors were able to take a donor trachea, and using chemicals and enzymes, they were able to "wash away" all the cells from it, leaving a tissue scaffold made of cartilage.  Then, taking both cells that lined Castillo's windpipe and her own stem cells (immature cells from bone marrow), they were able to regenerate the trachea into a living organ.  Because the cells came from the recipient, no anti-rejection medicine was needed.  They had tricked her body into believing this new body part was her own.   Only four days after the transplantation, the new windpipe was "almost indistinguishable from adjacent normal airways."

Here is one account of that surgery.

How cool is that?  Think of the possibilities!

In the summer of 2011, surgeons in Stockholm, Sweden, tried a new version of the artificial trachea.  A man from Eritrea had cancer so advanced that emergency surgery was his only chance of survival.  (Where was he from?  Eritrea. I had never heard of it!  It is a small country on the continent of Africa not far from Egypt. They have been independent from Ethiopia since 1991.)

Doctors didn't have time to wait for a donor trachea, so they made a 3D image of his damaged windpipe, and then made a synthetic scaffolding out of polymer plastic.  This was bathed in the recipients own stem cells and in two days was ready to be transplanted.  The size and shape was custom-made for him.  The surgery was a success.

Here is a picture of what it looks like.  

Not every surgery has been successful.  There was another with this artificial scaffolding done on an American.  It seemed to go well, but he only survived four months.  Here is the story from Baltimore.

In the case of a 9-month-old infant born without a trachea, they used a biodegradable polymer scaffold that will dissolve over time as it is replaced with the child's own cartilage.  This way it will grow with her.

Now you have heard something interesting.


  1. Fascinating! i love learning from you! From your blog and in person! :)

  2. A 9-month-old born without a trachea? What the? How did he breath? Has this sort of thing been done on any body part besides a trachea? Good stuff.