London, Nov 19 : A group of researchers has carried out the world's first tissue-engineered whole organ transplant, a windpipe, made with a combination of donated tissue and her own cells.
The groundbreaking technology also implies for the first time tissue transplants can be carried out without the need for anti-rejection drugs.
The patient is in perfect health, five months on, reports The Lancet.
Tailor-made organs like this could become the norm, the European team of experts believe.
The patient, 30-year-old mother of two Claudia Castillo, needed the surgery to save a lung following damage to her airways by tuberculosis.
Left barely able to breathe, the decision was taken in March to attempt the windpipe reconstruction.
Stem cells harvested from the woman's bone marrow were used to populate a stripped-down section of windpipe received from a donor, which was then transplanted into her body in June.
"Surgeons can now start to see and understand the very real potential for adult stem cells and tissue engineering to radically improve their ability to treat patients," says Martin Birchall, professor of surgery at the University of Bristol, UK, and a member of the team which constructed the windpipe tissue.
"We believe this success has proved that we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care," the expert added.
Spanish doctors started the process by taking a 7-centimetre section of windpipe from a deceased donor.
Researchers at the University of Padua, Italy, led by Maria Teresa Conconi, then used detergent and enzymes to purge the donated windpipe of all the donor's cells. After six weeks, all that was left was a solid scaffold of connective tissue.
Meanwhile, Birchall and his colleagues in Bristol took the stem cells from the patient's bone marrow and coaxed them in the lab into developing into the cartilage cells that normally coat windpipes.
Finally, the patient's cells were coated onto the donated tracheal scaffold over four days in a special bioreactor built at the Polytechnic of Milan in Italy.
The patient received the finished organ in June at the Hospital Clinic, Barcelona, where surgeon Paolo Macchiarini replaced Castillo's damaged trachea with the newly constructed tissue.
The study has been published in The Lancet.