Stem Cell Tissue Transplant Means Lab-Grown Faces Could Be Next

Illustration for article titled Stem Cell Tissue Transplant Means Lab-Grown Faces Could Be Next

The surgical world is abuzz today with news that a team has successfully given a woman a new trachea grown from her own stem cells. For others with damaged windpipes, it promises a future of transplants free from immune-suppressing drugs. Meanwhile, researchers are working on growing other tailor-made body parts from our stem cells. And next on the agenda may be lab-grown faces.Researchers announced this week in Lancet that, four months ago, Claudia Castillo received a rare trachea transplant. Castillo’s original windpipe was damaged by tuberculosis, and an international team of European researchers harvested stem cells from her bone marrow to grow the new trachea. Castillo’s body readily accepted the transplant without the use of immunosuppressants.

"They have created a functional, biological structure that can't be rejected," said Dr. Allan Kirk of the American Society of Transplantation. "It's an important advance, but constructing an entire organ is still a long way off."

Although we may not be seeing lab-grown kidneys and livers in the near future, Patrick Warnke, a surgeon at the University of Kiel in Germany, is currently working on a way to grow faces from patients’ own stem cells. Four years ago, Warnke was part of a team that created and transplanted a jawbone made from titanium, protein, and stem cells. Although face transplants from donors have been somewhat successful, Warnke has expressed his concern that recipients’ immune systems might reject the faces down the line. But he is encouraged by the success of the trachea transplant:

“Patients engineering their own tissues is the key way forward…[W]e need pioneering approaches like this to solve the problem.”


Doctors transplant windpipe with stem cells [AP]

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Corpore Metal

I think the real thing to watch for is advances in biodegradable scaffolds. The control the shape and, possibly, the cell types that compose the newly grown tissue. Ligament and tendon injuries are so hard to fix because there are no abrupt transitions between ligament and bone and tendon and muscle. The tissues blend and intermingle smoothly into one another.

If we can build a scaffold that prompts stem cells to differentiate between muscle, bone and connective tissue in that continuous way as they grow and migrate along the scaffold, that will be a huge step forward.