Trachea Transplant Makes History: Part 2

It’s been a little while since I’ve had much free time to devote to blog writing, and I’m only too aware of all the exciting examples of how animal research is advancing medicine. These have ranged from successful development of  bronchial thermoplasty for treating severe asthma thanks to studies in dogs,  to the  launch of clinical trials of embryonic stem cells in the eye disease dry AMD and Stargardt’s macular dystrophy following promising results in mice and rats, to the development in mice of artificial intestines for transplants, among many others.

This morning my attention was caught by an exciting report on the BBC this morning about the first successful transplant of a synthetic windpipe, developed by seeding a scaffold made from a novel nanocomposit polymer with stem cells taken from the patient himself.

This operation was performed by Professor Paolo Macchiarini, who has already performed several successful trachea transplants using a scaffold manufactured from decellularised donor tracheas, a technique that was developed through careful research on animals, as Bianca Summons discussed on this blog back in 2008.

A new bioengineered trachea developed by scientists at UCL. Image courtesy of UCL.

The latest transplant is a further development of that technique, but uses a scaffold constructed from the novel nanocomposit polymer polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane-poly(carbonate-urea)urethane (POSS-PCU), developed by a team at University College London led by Professor Alex Seifalian, in place of the decellularised donor trachea. This novel polymer was thoroughly evaluated in sheep over a three year period, where it was found to be biocompatible and non-toxic, showing no evidence of degradation or inflammation, and superior to other polymers used for tissue engineering purposes. This has led to the novel polymer’s evaluation in a range of applications, including heart valves, blood vessels and the artificial trachea reported this morning.

Avoiding a reliance on the availability of a suitible donor trachea gives this new technique a significant advantage over the decellularised trachea approach, and is another great example of how fast the field of tissue engineering is moving.

I do have one complaint, it would have been better if the BBC report and UCL Press release had acknowledged the role of animal research in making this advance possible. Clearly even in the UK there is still some work to be done on that front!

Paul Browne

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