Transplant woman grew new windpipe in her arm
Published 15/01/2010 | 05:00
A woman has received a donor windpipe after it was implanted in her arm for two years to overcome organ rejection.
The ground-breaking Belgian operation on Linda De Croock (54), whose throat was crushed in a car accident 25 years ago, has offered hope of success to other transplant patients.
The windpipe was taken from a dead man and implanted in her forearm, where her own tissue grew around the cartilage scaffold.
When the organ came to be transplanted to her throat, her body did not consider it foreign and accepted it.
It is thought to be the first time an organ as large as the windpipe has been implanted into the recipient's body to develop before the final transplant.
Miss De Croock did not have to take anti-rejection drugs, which meant she was not at risk of complications.
One year after the surgery at University Hospital Leuven, in Belgium, doctors said Miss De Croock was doing well when they reported her case in the 'New England Journal of Medicine'.
The operation followed a similar windpipe transplant last year, in which the patient's own stem cells were used to grow part of the lower windpipe.
Miss De Croock had suffered constant pain after her accident. Her windpipe was held open with two metal stents which caused irritation, repeated infections and meant she coughed continually.
Pierre Delaere, the surgeon who led the team, said: "This is a major step forward for trachea transplantation. "Her voice is excellent, and her breathing is normal. I don't think she could run a marathon, but she is doing well."
The three-inch section of windpipe was implanted in the arm where tissue, taken from her cheek, reseeded the structure and grew a new lining on the cartilage and developed a new blood supply.
A two-inch piece was transplanted to her throat where her trachea had collapsed after the stents were removed.
Miss De Croock said: "Now I'm very happy. I realise how my life has completely changed. I can actually do what I want."
Patrick Warnke, a tissue-engineering expert at Bond University in Australia, said it was the first time a donor organ as large as the trachea was nurtured inside the recipient's own body before being transplanted.
"This shows us that we may one day be able to use patients' own bodies as 'bioreactors' to grow their own tissue," he said.
Only a handful of windpipe transplants have been performed worldwide. (© Daily Telegraph, London)