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Transplanted Trachea Grows Own Blood Supply in Patient's Arm
Date:1/13/2010

'Breakthrough' procedure also avoided tissue rejection issues, surgeons say

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Belgian transplant surgeons are reporting a medical first: They coaxed a donor trachea to grow its own network of blood vessels before transplantation by first embedding it for months in the recipient's arm.

The innovative approach not only brought the patient a healthy, functional trachea (windpipe), but it did so without the need for taking lifelong immunosuppressive drugs, as is common with most transplant operations.

"This is very new," said study author Dr. Pierre Delaere, a professor of otolaryngology at University Hospital Leuven. "People with airway problems can stay alive with tracheal cannula [tubing]. However, a tracheal cannula can give serious breathing and speech difficulties. This new technique may lead to improved quality of life for this group of patients."

Delaere and his colleagues describe the new procedure in the Jan. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Though many body parts, including kidneys, lungs and other organs, are relatively amenable to transplant, a complex structure like the trachea is not.

"You can't just transplant the trachea because it doesn't have a distinct blood vessel supplying it," explained Dr. Megan Sykes, a transplant immunologist at Harvard Medical School and the author of an accompanying commentary. "You can't just hook it up to the recipient's blood vessels."

But life for people with severely damaged trachea can be very difficult. The patient described in the study was a 55-year-old woman whose windpipe was seriously injured during an emergency tracheotomy after a car accident 25 years earlier. The woman could breathe only with the aid of implanted tracheal stents that caused her to cough continuously and left her vulnerable to a series of infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia.

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