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Two-year-old girl receives new trachea made from her own stem cells

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Windpipe trachea scaffold from Harvard Bioscience (Credit: Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology)
Windpipe trachea scaffold from Harvard Bioscience (Credit: Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology)

Doctors announced today that two-and-a-half year old Hannah Warren just became the youngest person in history to receive a bioengineered organ transplant, a new windpipe made of a synthetic scaffold and her own stem cells. The nine-hour long procedure was performed April 9th, at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, but the results were just made public. Doctors expect that Warren will be able to return home in a few months and breathe, eat, drink and swallow using the new windpipe, all of which she couldn't do without the aid of machines until now.

"The ultimate potential of stem-cell based therapy is to avoid human donation."

Furthermore, because the procedure was performed using her own cells and no donor organ, there is next to zero risk of rejection. Aside from saving Warren's life, the successful procedure is a huge boost to the hopes of the field of regenerative medicine, which harnesses the body's own cells and natural processes to help heal wounds, even growing whole new organs. "The ultimate potential of this stem-cell based therapy is to avoid human donation," said the lead surgeon, Paolo Macchiarini, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, who traveled to Peoria to perform the surgery.

Warren was born in Seoul, Korea, with tracheal agenesis, which means she did not develop a windpipe (trachea), preventing her from breathing. Hannah's parents researched the medical options to help their daughter, and after finding that existing therapies wouldn't provide a longterm solution, they turned to regenerative medicine specialists. Although they initially planned to do the procedure in either South Korea or Sweden, funding was an issue. Children's Hospital of Illinois, housed on the campus of the Catholic OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, eventually accepted the case, after the leadership prayed on the matter and determined it wasn't in violation of Catholic teachings.

Several other doctors and companies around the globe contributed to the effort, including Harvard Bioscience, which provided the artificial scaffold used to create the windpipe, as Children's Hospital outlined in a news release. As for Warren, there have been some complications since the surgery, but she's said to be in good spirits and breathing on her own, without the aid of a tube, as The New York Times reports.