Man receives world’s first synthetic windpipe

Andy Coghlan

A 36-year-old man returned home this week after receiving the world’s first "synthetic" trachea in an operation at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.

Made of a bendy polymeric nanocomposite material, the trachea could be the first of many "off-the-shelf" organs for transplant.

Performed by Paolo Macchiarini of the Karolinska Institute, the surgery on 9 June built on earlier pioneering procedures in which Macchiarini transplanted into a female patient a section of windpipe taken from a dead donor, stripped chemically of the donor’s cells and recoated beforehand with the patient’s own cells.

The advantage of the synthetic trachea is that no death or donation is needed. "The big conceptual breakthrough is that we can move from transplanting organs to manufacturing them for patients," says David Green, the president of Harvard Bioscience in Holliston, Massachusetts, which provided the technology for coating the synthetic trachea with the cells.

"This same concept would work best for simple organs such as tracheas, ureters and blood vessels," says Green. For more complex organs, the donor organ approach might still be better, he says.

Everything's polymer these days (Image: UCL)

Everything’s polymer these days (Image: UCL)

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