A stem cell-seeded windpipe for a young girl: more to come from tissue engineering

The stem cell news is a-buzz today with the story of a young girl who received a synthetic windpipe seeded with her own stem cells. She was born without a functioning windpipe and has lived her 2 1/2 years in intensive care.

She’s not the first to receive such a transplant, but she is the youngest (and based on photos accompanying news stories like this one from ABC news, she’s perhaps the cutest). The first fully synthetic windpipe coated in stem cells was transplanted in 2011, as we wrote about here and since then there have been several more such procedures.

This marrying of synthetic tissues and stem cells is part of a growing field of tissue engineering. The New York Times had a fascinating series of stories last year about the field’s progress, including this one about our grantee Tracy Grikscheit who is working to develop an engineered intestine to help kids born with a short or malfunctioning intestine.

CIRM funds several awards to people attempting to engineer new tissues and organs to replace those that aren’t functioning properly. To help those grantees succeed with their science and with the complex regulations surrounding such therapies, we held a tissue engineering workshop to bring the scientists together. This short video from that workshop gives a snapshot of the types of organs and tissues the scientists are working to fix, and the hurdles they face:

This video illustrates what we wrote in our piece on the first synthetic windpipe back in 2011:

One take-away from this announcement is that a lot of incremental steps are required for every groundbreaking advance. We spend a lot of time in this blog writing about those papers that move research incrementally forward. Last week’s piece on bioengineered intestines is one example of that. This recent transplant is a reminder of where all those small steps are taking us.

Behind every pig-tailed 2 1/2 year-old girl receiving a novel therapy are many years of tiny, incremental steps working toward the perfect synthetic material or the best way of delivering the cells. Those steps sometimes seem slow, but the end result can be amazing.


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