Shots - NPR's Health Blog

Shots - NPR's Health Blog

< Cancer Patient Gets First Totally Artificial Windpipe

Copyright ©2011 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

text size A A A

July 8, 2011 - MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Surgeons in Sweden are reporting a medical milestone. They've replaced a patient's windpipe with a synthetic version that was created in a laboratory made of plastic and the patient's own stem cells.

The patient suffered from cancer of the trachea. NPR's Richard Knox has the story.

RICHARD KNOX: The patient is a 36-year-old man from Eritrea on the horn of Africa who went to Iceland to study geology. His name is Andemarian Teklesenbet Beyene. For the past year, he's been suffering from tracheal cancer, which is rare. Doctors tried everything.

As the tumor grew it was getting harder and harder for him to breathe. Doctors have successfully transplanted windpipes taken from organ donors. But Andemarian's doctor, Tomas Gudbjardsson, said that wasn't an option for him.

Dr. TOMAS GUDBJARDSSON: That often means a long wait. In this case, his symptoms were already that prominent that something had to be done.

KNOX: Gudbjardsson remembered reading about an Italian surgeon who's trying to create organs in the lab.

Dr. PAOLO MACCHIARINI (Karolinska Institute): My dream was always to transplant the safest and best windpipe.

KNOX: The surgeon, Paolo Macchiarini, works at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He agreed to take on Andemarian's case. First, he commissioned a London researcher to make a replica of Andemarian's windpipe out of a special spongy plastic. Meanwhile, a Massachusetts company called Harvard Biosciences worked day and night to fabricate a kind of incubator and ship it off to Sweden.

Once all that was done, the Stockholm team took a small amount of marrow from Andemarian's hip bone. It contains stem cells that are capable of turning into many types of tissue. They put the stem cells in the incubator along with the plastic replica, which acts as a kind of scaffolding on which the cells can grow.

They added a cocktail of growth factors to transform the stem cells into cartilage, as in a normal windpipe. A couple of days later, the synthetic trachea was ready to replace Andemarian's diseased windpipe. The operation took nearly 13 hours. That was a month ago.

Dr. MACCHIARINI: Well, he can breathe, he can cough. He has all the functionality of a normal windpipe, and he's without tumor. So that's a great thing for him.

KNOX: Today, Andemarian left the hospital and flew back to Iceland. He's tired and hoarse, but he was able to have a brief conversation.

It was difficult to breathe before?


KNOX: And now?

Mr. BEYENE: Now it's better. I'm not exactly 100 percent, but I am good.

KNOX: Macchiarini plans to do several more of these operations, including one on a nine-month-old girl who was born without a windpipe.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

More Shots - Health Blog

Podcast + RSS Feeds

Podcast RSS

  • Shots - Health Blog
  • Health


Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use. See also the Community FAQ.


NPR reserves the right to read on the air and/or publish on its website or in any medium now known or unknown the e-mails and letters that we receive. We may edit them for clarity or brevity and identify authors by name and location. For additional information, please consult our Terms of Use.


NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR Sponsor

Blog Host

A caricature of Scott Hensley.

Scott Hensley


Weekends on All Things Considered Podcast

Weekends On All Things Considered Podcast

Missed All Things Considered this weekend? Here's the best of what you might've missed.


Subscribe in iTunes

Listen Now