A Real Milestone

Last March, I was fascinated to read an article about groundbreaking surgery to rebuild the windpipe of an 11-year-old boy from Northern Ireland, from his own stem cells. The operation, lasting almost nine hours, took place at London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. Stem cells taken from the boy’s bone marrow, were injected into the fibrous collagen ‘scaffold’ of a donor trachea, or windpipe. The organ, which had first been stripped of it’s own cells, was then implanted into the boy.

I was really delighted to read last week that this pioneering surgery has been hailed a success and doctors now believe it could lead to a revolution in regenerative medicine. What an amazing breakthrough!

“A boy from Northern Ireland was released from hospital yesterday after pioneering surgery to rebuild his windpipe using his stem cells.

Ciaran Finn-Lynch, who in March this year became the first child to undergo a trachea transplant, is set to return home today.

The 11-year-old underwent the operation which involved the removal of his trachea and its replacement with a donor windpipe at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

Doctors used stem cells from the boy’s bone marrow to build up the donor windpipe and ensure the organ was not rejected. Four weeks ago, they were able to describe the transplant as a success after proving blood supply had returned to the trachea.

His parents, Colleen and Paul, described the last few months as a “rollercoaster” and paid tribute to the surgeons. “We’re just so grateful. We are delighted they could give Ciaran a chance.”

Ciaran was born with a condition called long segment tracheal stenosis, which leaves sufferers with a very narrow windpipe, making breathing difficult.

He underwent major surgery to reconstruct his airways but, at the age of 2½, a metal stent used to hold his airway open eroded. When a second stent eroded, the idea of a transplant was raised.

The boy’s parents said: “When they first suggested the procedure, we agreed to it, though we knew it would be the first time it had been tried in a child. We had 100 per cent faith in them.”

The surgery had been tried in Spain in 2008 on a mother of two.

Ciaran’s transplant took place four weeks after a donor trachea was found. The surgical team was led by Prof Martin Elliott, who said, “Ciaran is a wonderful boy and a great friend to us all. His treatment offers hope to many whose major airways were previously considered untreatable.”

Source: The Irish Times

More news BBC News HEALTH

8 Responses to A Real Milestone

  1. Grannymar says:

    Great positive story and a second chance for Ciaran and his family!

    • Steph says:

      Grannymar – That was my reaction to the story too. It’s lovely to hear some good news for a change.

      The team of doctors involved in this case have said that they believe the success of this operation has proved they are on the verge of a new age in surgical care. This technology could possibly be applied to other organs (lungs, livers and kidneys) and it could even replace transplantation.

  2. Annb says:

    The wonders of donation never cease. We all have the gift to leave a beautiful legacy. Thanks for that great story.

    • Steph says:

      Ann – Indeed. While it’s still early days for Ciaran and his family, it’s fantastic to see the progress that’s being made in surgery.

      Don’t know if you saw the moving programme last night (RTE 1) about the life and death of Stuart Mangan? He died last August from complications arising from a spinal injury he’d suffered while playing rugby in 2008. Stuart was amazing, truly inspirational.

      His organs were donated (as per his instructions in the event of death) so that others might have a chance of life. At least 10 people have benefitted.

      • Annb says:

        I had just finished watching it when I read your post, very timely indeed. What an amazing young man, an incredibly moving story.

  3. Baino says:

    I never understand the resistence to stem cell research when it can be applied to such innovative surgery. Crazy to resist it. Lucky boy indeed.

    • Steph says:

      Baino – I agree, it’s madness. The success of Ciaron’s groundbreaking surgery may be hugely significant for patients who were previously considered inoperable.

      Some years ago when I was in hospital, my immediate neighbour in the ward, was a lady whose oesophagus had been destroyed by a malignant growth. She underwent pioneering surgery to have the tumour removed from her gullet and trachea and she ended up with a permanent tracheostomy in place. I’d imagine that this new breakthrough in stem cell treatment/tracheal transplant will give her renewed hope for the future.

  4. Steph says:

    Annb – I’m glad you got to see that programme. I thought it was beautifully filmed and produced and it provided a fitting tribute to Stuart and his loving family.

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