British scientists were hailed on Wednesday after the first tissue-engineered windpipe, built from the patient's own stem cells, was successfully transplanted into a young woman with a failing airway.
Scientists at Bristol University were in a European team that conducted the operation on a young woman from Colombia living in Spain, they announced on Wednesday. The operation was performed in June at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona.
The bio-engineered trachea immediately provided the patient with a normally functioning airway, in the process throwing a lifeline to advocates of stem cell research who have run up against opposition from Christian religious campaigners in Britain.
Lung function tests performed two months after the operation were all at the better end of the normal range for a young woman.
“These remarkable results provide crucial new evidence that adult stem cells, combined with biologically compatible materials, can offer genuine solutions to other serious illnesses,” Bristol University said.
The pan-European team from the universities of Barcelona, Bristol, Padua and Milan report on the pioneering work in an article published early online and in an upcoming edition of The Lancet .
The success of the surgery also highlighted the need for an organ donation policy in Britain, as doctors were able to use seven-centimetre windpipe segment from a donor who had died of cerebral haemorrhage.
Spain has a policy of "assumed consent" for organ donation.
Anthony Hollander, Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Bristol, said: “This successful treatment manifestly demonstrates the potential of adult stem cells to save lives.”
But he said scientists were still a long way away from creating entire organs such as liver and heart from stem cells, owing to the complexity of such organs.
Martin Birchall, professor of surgery at the University of Bristol, added: “We believe this success has proved that we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care."