Desperate Patients Look to Lab-Grown Organs

Hannah WarrenLast week Yvonne and I watched a two-hour NBC News special report by Meredith Vieira, A Leap of Faith, that blew us away and had us both to tears. It was about an Italian scientist and surgeon, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, and his pioneering accomplishments with human organs grown in a lab with a patient’s own stem cells, as well as the struggles he faces in this important new field. His work is described as shaping the future of medicine and is focused on transplanting artificially grown trachea.

One of the featured patients was little Hannah Warren. Hannah was born without a trachea. She couldn’t breathe on her own and spent her entire life in the hospital, only kept alive by a tube inserted down her mouth and into her lungs.

No child with Hannah’s disorder has ever lived past the age of six, so receiving an artificial trachea was her only hope. But there was only one surgeon in the world that had the skills and vision and would do such a risky surgery.

When a patient has no other alternatives and will die very soon, “As a human and as a doctor are we allowed to say no? I don’t think so,” says Dr. Macchiarini.

Scientists around the world are learning as they go with this promising new technology. It’s one thing to develop prosthetics to aid a patient or artificial body parts to replace a tooth or bone, but a living organ that is not rejected by the body’s immune system is something far more difficult.

Eventually scientists expect to be able to grow vital organs like hearts, lungs and kidneys in the lab, but it will be years before they’re ready to transplant them in humans. Still, what makes this work so important is the number of people on waiting lists for human organ transplants.

8-minute Summary of the Full Episode

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