In 2008 Claudia Castillo from Colombia received a new windpipe that was manufactured from her own epithelial cells. A donor trachea was decellularized and used as scaffolding for her own healthy cells. The tissue proliferated and created a replacement piece that Castillo’s body would not reject.
It took six weeks for the detergent and enzymes to completely decellularize the seven-inch long donor trachea. Stem cells were taken from Castillo’s bone marrow and induced to act as epithelial cells. They built up around the scaffolding of connective tissue over the course of four days and were then transplanted into the woman.
Castillo’s windpipe was irreparably collapsed following a bout of tuberculosis and her team of physicians made the decision that a replacement would be the best course of action. Following the transplant she required a short hospital stay of less than two weeks. Once she got acclimated to her new windpipe, she was able to return home and did not even need the immunosuppressant medications that are usually essential following an organ transplant. The procedure left her with minimal scarring, due to the stint required to help hold the airway partially open.
The surgery almost didn’t happen as researchers from the University of Bristol had difficulty boarding the plane because the trachea exceeded the 100-milliliter limit. While fighting against a strict 16 hour time limit, the researchers became more agitated toward airport security, as prior arrangements to transplant the trachea had been made. A medical student overheard the conversation and was able to have his friend, who owns a small jet, fly them to Barcelona to complete the surgery.
The long-term success of her procedure represents the possibility for similar successful surgeries in the future. At the time of the surgery Castillo’s windpipe was only the second organ to be created outside the body through the use of the patient’s own stem cells.
Castillo, now 35 years old, is an active mother of two and her doctors claim that she is in excellent health with good lung function. Throughout her recovery, she never experienced any signs of rejection or immunological issues.