Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stem cells make trachea transplant possible

Organ transplants are risky. First, you need to be put on a waiting list that may be too long to find you a donor. Then, once a donor is found, there is always the chance that the organ will be rejected by your body. It only makes sense; we have no way of telling your body that it's ok, this foreign thing is something we want in there. The medications that people take after organ transplants are many and also have side effects. But then, there's the bright side: a life saved and a second chance. So, despite the many drawbacks, there are more benefits and the research continues to make transplantation more effective.

Now, there may be just the kind of breakthrough that scientists need. A 30-year-old woman in Spain has received a trachea (windpipe) to replace one that had collapsed and couldn't be repaired with surgery. The actual trachea came from a donor, but the cells in the trachea that would/could have triggered a rejection were removed or stripped from the trachea so they could no longer have that effect. The doctors then took some adult stem cells (the building block for producing bone marrow and blood) and other cells, and grafted (attached) them to the donated trachea. The stem cells came from a healthy part of the woman's airway.  The trachea was then left to "grow" the new cells and then transplanted into the woman.

Of course, this is the first of its kind and it's only been four months since the surgery, so long-term results aren't available. But researchers are happy with what has happened so far. The patient is now able to walk and care for her children without running out of breath.

How cool is that? And if they can do this with a trachea, can this be done for life-saving organs? One can only hope.

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1 comment:

RB said...

Hi! I don't know if you remember findingDulcinea, but we have actually have an article on the subject that answers your question:

In fact, they know that this technology can be used to replace knee cartilage, and probably for heart transplant some day soon.

I hope all is well!