Woman gets first trachea transplant without drugs

Tue Nov 18, 2008 7:16pm EST
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By Michael Kahn

LONDON (Reuters) - A Colombian woman has received the world's first tailor-made trachea transplant, grown by seeding a donor organ with her own stem cells to prevent her body rejecting it, an international research team reported on Wednesday.

The success of the operation, performed in June using tissue generated from the woman's own bone marrow, raises the prospect that transplanting other organs may be possible without drugs to dampen the immune system, they said.

Doctors work hard to match tissue type when transplanting organs so that the body does not completely reject the new organ, but patients usually have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives.

"The probability this lady will have a rejection is almost zero percent," Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, head of thoracic surgery at the Hospital Clinic, Barcelona who performed the transplant, told a news conference.

"The patient is enjoying a normal life with no signs of rejection after four months."

Claudia Castillo sought help after a case of tuberculosis destroyed part of her trachea -- the windpipe connected to the lungs -- and left her with breathing difficulties, prone to infections and unable to care for her two children.

The 30-year-old's only option other than the experimental surgery was for doctors to remove part of her lung -- a choice that would have seriously degraded her quality of life, the researchers said.

"It isn't just an issue of life, it is an issue of quality of life," said Martin Birchall, a surgeon at the University of Bristol, who helped treat Castillo.   Continued...