A few months ago, I blogged about a man who became the second person ever to received a synthetic windpipe. Sadly, Christopher Lyles died Monday, nearly four months after the surgery and 2 months after returning home to Maryland.
As of Wednesday, the cause of death is unknown, and may be unconnected to the very experimental surgery. doctors, researchers, and Lyles' family all stress that this sad news should not slow down or halt further research in the area of synthetic organs, which eliminate the need for matching and the expensive medications that are required to stop a host's body from rejecting the transplant.
Lyles wasn't the only person to receive this operation in the past year. Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, from the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at Karolinska Institute of Stockholm, did a similar procedure on an Eritrean man first, and reports that the man is still living healthily with his synthetic trachea.
Researchers are working on adapting the same process used for growing the trachea (autologous cells over an appropriately-shaped scaffold) to create synthetic bladders and kidneys. While the news of Lyles' death seems like a strike against the surgery, history has shown that nearly all new procedures of this magnitude carry incredibly high risk. The first 5 patients who received artificial hearts died within 2 years of the transplant, with some surviving only days after the procedure. Even if Lyles died due to a complication from the procedure, it does not suggest that there is no promise for the future of synthetic organs.
Learn more about new applications for stem cell treatments at the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Congress USA 2012!