London: Surgeons in Sweden have performed the world’s first synthetic organ transplant – an artificial windpipe transplanted in a cancer patient.
Significantly, the technique does not need a donor and there is no risk of the organ being rejected.
The surgeons claim a windpipe can also be made within days.
The pioneering surgery took place at the Karolinska University Hospital under the guidance of Professor Paolo Macchiarini from Italy.
Macchiarini told BBC, he now hopes to use the technique to treat a nine-month-old child in Korea who was born with a malformed windpipe or trachea.
Scientists at University College London were given the 3D scans of the 36-year-old African patient, Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene.
Using these images, they were able to craft a perfect copy of Beyene’s trachea and two main bronchi out of glass.
This was then flown to Sweden and soaked in a solution of stem cells taken from the patient’s bone marrow.
After two days, the millions of holes in the porous windpipe had been seeded with the patient’ own tissue.
Dr Alex Seifalian and his team used this fragile structure to create a replacement for the patient, whose own windpipe was ravaged by an inoperable tumour.
During a 12-hour operation Macchiarini removed all of the tumour and the diseased windpipe and replaced it with the tailor-made replica.
The bone marrow cells and lining cells taken from his nose, which were also implanted during the operation, are able to divide and grow, turning the inert windpipe scaffold into an organ indistinguishable from a normal healthy one.
Most importantly, Beyene’s body will accept it as its own, meaning he will not need to take the strong anti-rejection drugs that other transplant patients have to.
The 36-year-old cancer patient is doing well a month after the operation.
Macchiarini said many other organs could be repaired or replaced in the same way.