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A boy in England has received the first organ transplant that will grow inside the patient's body using their own stem cells.   (Source: PA)
The era of replaceable organs is drawing near

Mankind is close to defying nature and extending human beings' life spans tens of years by using replacement organs.  The key to this progress is stem cells, the same kind of cells that differentiated to form your original tissues.

In England, a 10-year-old boy received a groundbreaking tracheal transplant at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.  The windpipe -- a flexible tube that connects the nose, mouth and lungs -- was replaced with an organ that will grow inside the boy's own body using the boy's own stem cells.

The story began when the boy was born with long segment tracheal stenosis, a debilitating condition that leaves the victim with a 1 mm wide airway, which can lead to suffocation and death.  Doctors tried to treat the condition with stents, but the stents collapsed, cutting off the boy's airflow and damaging his aorta.  After the boy almost stopped breathing, his doctors contacted Paolo Macchiarini, from Careggi University Hospital, Florence.

Macchiarini decided to try an ambitious and risky approach that had never before been successfully performed -- regrowing the organ in the boy's own body using stem cells.  Leading a Italian, British and Spanish team, the researchers first took a donor windpipe and stripped it of all cells to prevent immune response.

The procedure has begun with a successful implant.  Seeded with the boy's stem cells and a cocktail of growth-promoting chemicals, the tissue was implanted into the boy last Week.  The boy responded well, breathing normally and speaking soon after the operation.

Professor Martin Birchall, head of translational regenerative medicine at University College London called the procedure a "milestone moment" and pointed out that by allowing the boy's own cells to regrow the tissue, the cost was dramatically lowered to "tens of thousands pounds rather than hundreds of thousands."  

He states, "We believe it’s a real milestone.  It is the first time a child has received stem-cell organ treatment, and it’s the longest airway that has ever been replaced. I think the technique will allow not just highly specialized hospitals to carry out stem-cell organ transplants. We don’t think it’s going to replace conventional transplants just yet, but already there are certain aspects of conventional transplant surgery it can be applied to. We need to think about how to make regenerative medicine a key part of our healthcare."

The work follows other significant work two years ago in Spain where Claudia Castillo, 30, became the first person to receive a portion of trachea regrown with stem cells.  That transplant, however, was a much shorter tract of trachea and was much more expensive as it was grown outside the body in a special bioreactor.

The researchers are looking forward to advancing the treatment aggressively, perhaps next performing larynx or oesophagus stem cell transplants.

Despite this optimism, it still remains to be seen whether the boy's recovery is as successful as anticipated.  Given Castillo's success, though, the boy is expected to make a full recovery.  And with that recovery mankind will move one step closer to immortality.

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RE: Medicine or de-evolution of our species?
By epobirs on 3/23/2010 4:16:12 AM , Rating: 2
You seem to assume that medicine can never cure, only treat. This is just silly.

When I was six years old, my appendix went kablooey. I started having pain in the late morning and was in surgery by early evening. That was it, done, finito, over. It has not been a problem again in 40 years. Not one cent of expense has been incurred due to my appendix after I left the hospital, even though leaving it untreated would have been fatal.

The fact is, when you can cure a problem with finality, you're making an investment in the lifetime value of that person. Many of those cures promise to become far more cost effective as our ability to diagnose and treat improves. There is no reason to believe that the creation of a replacement organ, say, a kidney, will not eventually be automated to the point it becomes vastly more cost effective than a lifetime of dialysis.

Medicine as a genuine science is scarcely more than a century old. The tools have been pretty crude for most of that time. We've only gotten serious about genetics very recently and our understanding is moving at a rapid pace. A few decades from now the gulf between our medical capabilities in 2010 will likely seem absurdly primitive. I'm confident this will lead to far more focus on actual cures rather than treatment and that will make things far more cost effective.

Unless, of course, you regard life itself as a chronic illness.

By porkpie on 3/23/2010 10:52:44 AM , Rating: 2
"You seem to assume that medicine can never cure, only treat"

I said no such thing, nor is the distinction even relevant in this case. A one-time cure still costs resources...and in fact can cost as much or more than some ameliorative lifetime treatments.

Take the case of Type II Diabetes, for instance. At some point we'll be able to cure it...possibly with newly grown (or manufactured) organs. Will that cure be less costly than a lifetime of cheap insulin? Impossible to predict.

What it WILL mean, though, is more and more people born with diabetes. At some point a few hundred years from now, the average child will be born with several conditions that, without treatment of some sort, will be immediately or ultimately fatal.

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