Christopher Lyles, 30 years old, underwent an experimental procedure, involving stem cells to treat his trachea cancer. A trachea connects the nose and mouth to the lungs, serving a crucial function for life. Lyles represents the first U.S. stem cell trachea transplant, using his own stem cells.
In June, Lyles was diagnosed with a rare form of trachea cancer. As part of his treatment, he underwent seven rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation treatment over the summer. However, trachea cancer is usually resistant to chemotherapy and radiation and his cancer continued to grow.
Lyles' tumor grown to be too big to be removed because the damage from the surgery would be too invasive. With his tumor, larger than 2 centimeters, Lyles' breathing was beginning to be jeopardized, and he began to look of other options.
In his search, he found Dr. Macchinarini, who is conducting experimental treatments. This type of experimental technique can cost between $300,000 to $600,000 and in Lyes case, was not covered by medical insurance.
Since August 2010, Macchiarini and his team had been performing this procedure on patients with tracheal cancer. The original procedure involved doctors harvesting stem cells from two patients' nose and bone marrow. These two types of cells were grown into two different types of tissue. These tissues would be used to replicate the different types of tissue found on the inner and outer lining of the donor trachea. This study was published in December 2008 in the journal Lancet.
For Lyles' treatment, his trachea was grown by researchers by taking bone marrow stem cells from Lyles and regenerating them into tissue to create the trachea, biologically identical to Lyles.
Macchiarini, the director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute, performed the transplant after removing Christopher Lyles' trachea. Then the new trachea, made of microfibers of plastic shaped into a windpipe scaffold, was slowly saturated in a bioreactor in a solution of stem cells from Lyles' own bone marrow.
From Macchiarini work, stem cells can differentiate into the proper type of tracheal cells when placed under the right conditions. Thus when a matrix to create a functioning trachea is surrounded by stem cells, the stem cells can differentiate in the new environment and function with a new role. Using Lyles' own stem cell reduces the risk of organ transplant rejection from his body.
According to ABC news, after a 12 hour operation in November, Lyles can speak, eat, and breath using a trachea developed by his own stem cells in a laboratory. After the procedure, Lyles developed pneumonia, but has recovered now and returned home.
Although this procedure is still being developed, it could lead to improving other demanding transplant needs.
Since 2008, Macchiarini had performed 10 trachea implants using patients' stem cells and windpipes from cadavers. In 2010, he performed the same surgery on the man from Eritrea using a synthetic windpipe, similar to the one used in Lyles.
Using stem cells to create new organs has also been used by other researchers, as such as Anthony Atala at Wake Forest University. Dr. Atala has shown promise growing bladders and urethra using scaffolds and patients' own stem cells.