A Real Milestone

August 9, 2010

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

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