Doctors Successfully Transplant Synthetic Windpipe to Replace Cancerous One

While some doctors are working to create cures for cancer, others are working to create effective solutions to combat the destructive effects of certain types of cancer. Take for example the recent breakthroughs in tissue engineering that allowed doctors to replace the cancerous windpipe of a Baltimore man with a new, synthetic windpipe. While a similar procedure had been performed on a Swedish man, this is the first time an American has undergone such a procedure.

The surgery was possible thanks to the efforts of Dr. Paolo Macchiarini and his colleagues at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Dr. Macchiarin is the director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine and has been working in the field of tissue engineering. His goal is to effectively reproduce tissues and organs outside of the body, a field that is undergoing a surge in success thanks to advances in stem cell research.

Christopher Lyles, the 30 year-old Baltimore man who received the synthetic windpipe transplant, had been diagnosed with inoperable tracheal cancer. However, following his transplant surgery, he was quoted telling a New York Times reporter, “I’m just thankful for a second chance at life.”

While windpipe transplants are nothing new, the procedure used to create Lyles’s synthetic windpipe was groundbreaking. The scaffolding used to form the windpipe was created out of PET plastic, a type of plastic that is typically used in pop bottles. Those plastic fibers were then seeded with stem cells take from Lyles’s bone marrow.

As the stem cells bonded to the plastic scaffolding, they began to regenerate and produce cartilage. The stem cells then continue to grow and produce new cells after being implanted, reacting to chemical signals from the body. And because Lyles’s own stem cells were used to create the transplanted windpipe, he does not need to take anti-rejection drugs.

However, this is not to say that this new type of procedure is not without its potential drawbacks and problems. The body can reject any new, foreign substances and scientists are unsure about the long-term potential of such synthetic implants in transplant patients. However, in Lyles’s case, when there are no other options, this new advancement gave him a new lease on life; hopefully doctors will be able to expand this research and eventually offer it to a wider group of individuals.


Fountain, Henry. “Synthetic Windpipe Is Used to Replace Cancerous One.” The New York Times. January 12, 2012.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates, Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Wheaton, and Arlington Heights.
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