Doctors in Sweden have replaced a vital blocked blood vessel in a 10-year-old girl using the first vein grown in a lab from a patient's own stem cells.
The successful transplant operation, reported online in The Lancet medical journal on Thursday, marks a further advance in the search for ways to make new body parts.
It could open the door to stem cell-based grafts for heart bypass and dialysis patients who lack suitable blood vessels for replacement surgery, and the Swedish team said it is now working with an undisclosed company to commercialise the process.
"I'm very optimistic that in the near future we will be able to get both arteries and veins transplanted on a large scale," said Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, professor of transplantation biology at the University of Gothenburg, and a member of the team that performed the operation in March 2011.
The advantage of using tissue grown from a patient's own cells is that there is no risk of organ rejection and hence no need for lifelong immunosuppressive drugs.
Four years ago, a 30-year-old woman received the world's first transplant of a tailor-made windpipe, grown in a similar way by seeding a stripped-down donor organ with her own stem cells. Other such trachea operations have followed since.
The latest case involved a young girl with an obstructed hepatic portal vein, which drains blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver. Its blockage can be fatal.
The team from the University of Gothenburg took a 9 cm (3.5 inch) section of groin vein from a deceased donor and removed all the living cells, leaving just a protein scaffold tube. Stem cells extracted from the girl's bone marrow were then injected onto the tube and two weeks later the graft was implanted.
The new blood vessel immediately restored normal blood flow, the doctors said, although after a year it narrowed and a second stem cell-based graft was needed.
Martin Birchall and George Hamilton of University College London said in a commentary in The Lancet that the Swedish doctors had spared the young girl the trauma of having veins harvested from deep in her neck or leg and avoided the need for a liver transplant.
But they cautioned the technique now needed to be tested in clinical trials and developed into a straightforward quality-controlled production process.
Sumitran-Holgersson said her team had already simplified the process and was now able to harvest stem cells from blood rather than bone marrow. She aims to test the technique with arteries later this year.
"You are going to see more and more of these personalised grafts in future," she said in a telephone interview.
The university has also linked up with a Swedish company, which Sumitran-Holgersson declined to identify, to explore how to commercialise the technique. This could involve offering "off-the-shelf" scaffolds from which tailor-made blood vessels could then be built.
Around the world, scientists in the emerging field of regenerative medicine are working to engineer many different human organs and tissues in the lab, including lungs and hearts.
Building such complex organs is a lot more challenging than making blood vessels, however, since veins are relatively simple hollow structures with few engineering demands.
The World Health Organization has announced that the Ebola virus has killed some 1,552 people in West Africa, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since the outbreak began in January.
UN deputy secretary general Jan Eliasson said the failure to address the issue of sanitation would prove “disastrous.”
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken 1,552 lives out of 3,069 known cases in four countries and "continues to accelerate", WHO said
Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Piah told AA the names would be announced later.
The WHO urged a range of "regulatory options", including prohibiting e-cigarette makers from making health claims
The doctor died after receiving the experimental drug ZMapp.
Japan has received inquiries from some countries on the influenza drug favipiravir, or T-705 as it is known in the developmental code.
Some 54 people have died in or near the capital Accra, and around 300 people are now being infected daily with the highly contagious disease, putting pressure on local health facilities, said Linda Van-Otoo, GHS director for Greater Accra.
A Philippine seaman is being monitored in Togo for signs of the disease but authorities say the country is still Ebola-free, despite dozens of workers returning from Liberia.
A 36-year-old man from Senegal is being tested in Barcelona.
MSF (Doctors Without Borders) has deployed 1,000 of its own staff in the stricken region, running centres that currently have 300 beds
On Wednesday, the residents of the two communities woke up just after the president ordered the quarantine only to find their community barricaded with soldiers and police officers preventing people from leaving or entering the two areas.
They were given ZMapp, a drug used on a handful of patients in the West African outbreak and produced by U.S.-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical.
A local priest who asked not to be named said that the illness had affected several villages and estimated that the death toll was over 100 people.
The calculation highlights the dilemma facing officials considering how to distribute the tiny quantities of unproven drugs that are likely to be available in the near term
"We are hopeful and grateful to God and to the medical team that they are showing signs of improvement," Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown told a press conference on Tuesday.