The term “racing against the clock” may never have been more fitting than for the case of 30 year old Claudia Castillo, who needed a trachea transplant as a result of contracting tuberculosis. The trachea, commonly known as the windpipe, is a 4-6 inch tube in the throat that allows air to flow into the lungs. Why Claudia’s situation was so unique is that instead of choosing the typical transplant route, which is unfortunately a very lengthy one of waiting for an organ donor, she decided to have a new trachea biologically printed for her.
The doctors at Bristol University in England had previously taken the stem cells from Claudia’s bone marrow and turned them into tracheal cells (the process developed by Doctor Shinya Yamanaka, as discussed in our previous blog). The doctors then submerged the trachea into a large amount of Claudia’s new-tracheal stem cells. The newly created trachea had to be implanted into Claudia within a very small window of only 16 hours.
Along the way, a problem occurred in transporting the printed organ – one that almost destroyed all chances of the operation even taking place. EasyJet, the airline being used to transfer the organ from England to Barcelona to where Claudia was waiting, would not allow for the organ to come onto the plane, despite Bristol University having had numerous conversations to ensure there would be no trouble during the transfer. Luckily, there is a happy ending to all of this; Philipp Jungerbluth, the medical student who was transferring the organ to Barcelona, had a friend who was a pilot and was able to pick up the organ and deliver it to Barcelona, and the resulting operation was a pure success.
The entire procedure cost the university $21,000, but their revolutionary work demonstrates the great benefits of recreating organs using the patient’s own stem cells, as Claudia has shown no signs of rejection even without the use of immunosuppressant drugs. Such successes are a great motivator for researching further improvements and advances in bioprinting.
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