July 19 - The world's first recipient of a man-made organ is on the road to recovery after pioneering stem cell surgery saved his life. Andemarian Telesenbet Beyene received a trachea covered with his own stem cells to prevent rejection. Jim Drury reports.
Andemarian Telesenbet Beyene shows off his scar after surgery that saved his life - and promises to revolutionise organ transplants. The father-of-two recently became the world's first recipient of a man-made organ, covered with his own stem cells to prevent rejection. Suffering from late-stage tracheal cancer, the Rekjavik-based student was weeks from death. SOUNDBITE (English) MAN-MADE TRACHEA PATIENT, ANDEMARAN BEYENE, SAYING: "The cancer broke my breathing system. I was not able to breathe. You know, before the first operation here in Iceland in 2009 it was, I can say, totally broken." With all previous treatment failing and no organ donor on the horizon, Beyene's doctors had a radical idea. They approached scientists at the Harvard Bioscience laboratory in Massachusetts who had developed an artificial trachea. The patients' own stem cells would be used to coat the trachea which would then act as a scaffold supporting tissue growth. Once the cells had been seeded, the trachea would be ready for transplantation. Harvard Bioscience President David Green. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID GREEN, PRESIDENT HARVARD BIOSCIENCE SAYING: "We made something called the 'bioreactor', which is a box about the size of a shoebox, roughly this size, and that is where the trachea went from being a piece of plastic to being a piece of human tissue." Scientists at University College London (UCL) then became involved. Using 3-D scans they created a glass mould of Beyene's windpipe and his two main bronchial tubes. The mould was flown to Stockholm where it was "seeded" with stem cells from Beyene's bone marrow. SOUNDBITE (English) DAVID GREEN, PRESIDENT HARVARD BIOSCIENCE SAYING: "In the trachea, because it was seeded with stem cells - stem cells taken from his own body so there's no immuno-rejection, those stem cells live and they grow, and within a few weeks of the surgery, his own blood vessels had grown through the plastic scaffold as well. So it's really part of him today. It's his tissue. It's his cells, and those have differentiated from the [original] bone-marrow cells to become all the different cell-types that make up the trachea. So it really is a living, breathing organ at this point." Back in Rekjavik, Eritrean-born Beyene was at first unconvinced. SOUNDBITE (English) MAN-MADE TRACHEA PATIENT, ANDEMARAN BEYENE, SAYING: "I was happy when they told me about an operation. But this operation... They told me that this was the first in its kind. This is a synthetic organ. It has never been tried in a human being. I was scared. I was about to refuse." Having consulted doctors and considered the options, Beyene gave the green light to the 12-hour transplant operation, the first ever conducted on a human. Beyene is now making a rapid recovery. He hopes to return home shortly and carry on his geology studies. His doctors believe Beyene's 'grow your own organ' transplant will soon become as common as donor surgery and that the 36-year-old will be forever regarded as a pioneer. Jim Drury, Reuters