July 19

Many patients don’t survive the waiting list for a donor organ.  I know, first hand, as I lost a long-time friend while he was waiting for a compatible donor heart.

This logjam is beginning to open with the medical community’s announcement that a patient received a trachea (“windpipe”) that was created with the patient’s own stem cells.  (Stem cells are a versatile type of cell that can transform into many types of cells. http://1.usa.gov/ubcAp)

The trachea was constructed with an artificial “skeleton” of a spongy material which was then immersed in a solution of stem cells.  The cells grew into the sponge material, creating a living organ in less than two weeks.  The resulting trachea was then implanted into the patient (who was suffering from tracheal cancer).  The patient’s body accepted new-formed organ as if it was the original trachea.

In theory, the same process could be used to create other, more complex organs:  liver, pancreas, heart, etc.  We’re still quite a ways from this level of organ development.  But the medical door is now open a crack.  Further progress is just a matter of time.

For more information and additional photos, take a look at a recent article at CNN http://bit.ly/qAibNI.

Image courtesy Harvard Bioscience