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Health Team

Woman gets new organ grown from own stem cells

Posted November 24, 2008 4:49 p.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2008 6:27 p.m. EST

People who need new organs can take hope after a Colombian woman underwent a successful transplant of a new windpipe grown from her own stem cells.

Spanish, British and Italian scientists invented the method that has let Claudia Castillo, a 30-year-old mother of two living in Barcelona, Spain, breath easy again.

A few months ago, she couldn't push her daughter on a swing without running out of breath.

"It was very hard to have conversations with my family," Castillo said, through a translator. "I had to tell them, 'Now, please, don't talk, because I need to breath.'"

Castillo had suffered from tuberculosis for years, and when her left lung collapsed in March, doctors thought the only solution was to remove it. But Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, head of thoracic surgery at Barcelona's Hospital Clinic, proposed a windpipe transplant instead.

In a revolutionary transplant, doctors gave Claudia a new windpipe with tissue grown from her own stem cells.

"This is a landmark in stem-cell biology, because we can say very clearly that we've turned stem-cell biology into stem-cell medicine," Dr. Anthony Hollander, a professor at the University of Bristol, in England, said.

Scientists at Italy's University of Padua stripped off all the cells of a donor windpipe, leaving only a tube of connective tissue. Meanwhile, doctors at the University of Bristol used stem cells from Castillo's bone marrow to create millions of cartilage and tissue cells.

Experts at the University of Milan used a device to put the new cartilage and tissue onto the windpipe. Castillo got the new organ in June and didn't have to take anti-rejection medicine since the new tissue came from her own stem cells.

Doctors said the effort opens the door for all kinds of transplants: "new bowels, new bladders, new blood vessels," said Dr. Martin Birchall, of the University of Bristol.

"It's a very small leap, having shown that we can do it and it's safe to do," Birchall said.

The doctors behind the surgery said they are planning future trachea transplants based on Castillo's success.

"As long as she stays in this health, I will be the happiest doctor in the world," Macchiarini said.