Tracheae (aka windpipes) don't grow on trees. In fact, they don't grow anywhere, which is problematic when it comes to tracheal cancer, but recently surgeons in Switzerland managed to replace a cancerous windpipe with a plastic one made in a laboratory and covered in the recipient's stem cells.
Thirty-year-old Baltimore resident Christopher Lyons had what was considered inoperable tracheal cancer and opted to be the second person (and first American) to ever have this type of procedure.
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, director of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, removed Lyons' tracheal and the malignant tumor and replaced it with an artificial trachea made from nano-sized particles of PET — the same plastic soda bottles are made from — and covered in stem cells taken from Lyons' bone marrow.
The treatment, which cost a cool $450,000, was successful. After a few days, the cells began to grow and produce cartilage. And since they were taken from Lyons' body, they will not be rejected (as often happens with organ transplants).
Lyons is the second person to receive this treatment. The first was an Eritrean man last June, who is doing well.
The trachea is a relatively simple to recreate, in comparison to other organs. This is a huge step forward for tissue engineering, as scientists attempt to tackle larger and complex organs.
Of course, taking preemptive action such as quitting smoking can help you avoid having to worry about this at all, though it's certainly not the only cause.
And hopefully, over time, the price tag of helpful operations such as this will shrink.