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Doctors Report Historic Transplant in Child

In a Tissue-Engineering First, Doctors Think the Boy's New Windpipe Could Grow

The 'Holy Grail' of Tissue Engineering: Organs That Grow

Ciaran's case, which is reported in The Lancet, is the first time doctors have rebuilt an organ inside the body. Normally, donor organs are washed, reseeded with stem cells, and then grown in a lab until they are ready to be used in a patient. The process takes several weeks.

"We did not have the time to engineer and to culture the cells in a bioreactor because this child needed to have something done quickly. We used the child, himself, as a bioreactor," says researcher Paolo De Coppi, MD, PhD, one of the surgeons who treated Ciaran. "For him, there was no other option."

Worldwide, just 12 tissue-engineered tracheas have been transplanted into patients. Ciaran is the first child to get one. Doctors are watching him closely to see if the new trachea will keep up with his growth spurts. Since he's already shot up more than four inches since the operation, doctors think there's a good chance it will.

"We believe the matrix of the transplant will remodel with time. So it should allow, when the child grows, for the transplant to grow with the child," De Coppi says.

About 3% of babies are born with organs or tissues that are so malformed they threaten the child's life or growth. About 2% of newborns have poorly developed windpipes or lungs.

If tissue-engineered grafts like the one Ciaran has could grow, doctors think the damaged parts could be replaced almost as soon as they're discovered.

"A lot of kids, like kids with heart defects, any sort of structural defect that needs repair, if you do a repair with something that doesn't grow with the patient, you're committing them to a series of operations," Ott tells WebMD.

"So the holy grail of tissue engineering is to come up with something that is so integrated into the human body that it grows with the human body," he says. "That would make a big difference."

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