Before Ciaran Finn-Lynch had the operation in London, doctors thought he could die at any moment.
He was born with a windpipe just one millimetre wide and only survived his first 11 years thanks to a series of metal devices, called stents, to hold his airway open.
However, these repeatedly burrowed into a major blood vessel causing massive bleeding. One more such bleed and he could have died.
Then, two years ago, transplant specialists proposed a pioneering technique that involved covering a donor windpipe with Ciaran’s own stem cells.
It was the boy’s only option, doctors said, but had the added advantage that he would not need to take immunosuppressant drugs.
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The family immediately agreed and the operation took place at Great Ormond Street Hospital in March 2010.
Since then Ciaran, from County Down in Northern Ireland, has grown almost four-and-a-half inches (11cm) and he has returned to school. He has also been able to develop his musical interest as a drummer. A medical update is published in The Lancet today.
His family has declined to be interviewed, but at the time of the operation his mother Colleen said she and her husband Paul had “got our boy back”.
The procedure involved taking a windpipe from a 30-year-old Italian woman who had died and stripping it of living cells down to the inert collagen ‘scaffold’.
Four weeks later, Ciaran’s windpipe was removed. Sections of its lining were taken off and kept and the rest discarded. Bone marrow from Ciaran was harvested and the stem cells isolated.
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The same day, the donor windpipe was inserted into Ciaran’s neck and his stem cells sprayed on to it.
Tiny sections of lining from his original windpipe were patched on to the replacement. These prompted the stem cells to turn into the right kind of tissue and kick-started growth of the windpipe lining.
Finally, the graft was injected with proteins to stimulate cell growth and differentiation, called cytokines.
The operation was the first attempt to grow stem cells in place in the body of a child, rather than growing an organ in a laboratory ‘bioreactor’.
It came only two years after the first windpipe replacement using stem cells in an adult, although in that case, carried out in Barcelona, the organ was grown in the lab.
More the Telegraph.