The stem cell research debate included lots of promises about how we would be able to get new body parts grown in a lab, and now it's actually happening. Last month a Swedish cancer patient had this rather gross looking artificial trachea implanted, just after it had been grown in a lab using the man's own stem cells.
Doctors created the trachea by first building a scaffold in the shape of his own diseased trachea, based on measurements taken from CAT scan images. Then they put the completed form in device called an InBreath Bioreactor, and bathed it in a solution that included stem cells taken from the patient's own bone marrow. Two weeks later, the cells had multiplied and the trachea was fully formed, ready for implantation.
Because it was made from the patient's own cells, his body is unlikely to reject the new part, eliminating any need for dangerous immunosuppressant drugs. Researchers admit that a trachea is a relatively easy first step, and that bioengineering things like lungs and kidneys will be far more difficult.
The potential possibilities of this technology are pretty mind-boggling. Perhaps one day we will get our limbs and organs scanned when we are young and healthy, just in case we need a few replacement parts a few decades down the road.