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Inaugural transplant of a bioengineered voicebox

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For the first successful partial transplant of a bioengineered larynx, researchers had to strip the donor larynx of DNA and reseed it with the recipient's own stem cells.

Researchers have announced the first successful partial transplant of a bioengineered larynx!

This technique, developed by an international team from Italy and Sweden, ‘treats’ the donor larynx so that it’s accepted by the recipient’s body as its own, New Scientist reports.

Generally for transplants to work, patients take drugs to suppress the immune system for the rest of their lives in order to avoid the rejection of the foreign tissue.

But these drugs can cut lives short by a decade – which is probably a bad deal for people who want a larynx transplant, since it’s not crucial for survival.

Earlier this year, the recipient of such a transplant was able to have a new larynx only because she was already taking immunosuppressants for her kidney and pancreas transplants.

So Paolo Macchiarini of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his colleagues in Italy solved the rejection problem by stripping the donor tissue of cells and DNA before reseeding it with stem cells taken from the recipient’s bone marrow.

  1. They removed the larynxes from 5 cadavers and treated them with enzymes and detergents to remove donor cells until only 0.001% of donor DNA remained.
  2. They made sure that the stripped larynxes had similar mechanical properties to those of a normal one so they could perform with the same degree of versatility after the transplant.
  3. Then they showed that blood vessels would regrow in the treated larynxes, making it easier to integrate with the recipient's body.

In unpublished work, the team describe how they transplanted a part of the larynx into a patient. Called the cricoid (see picture), this lower section is simpler than the upper part and mainly provides structural stability, but it’s a start!

The work was published in Biomaterials in April.

Via New Scientist.

Image of the larynx via Wiki

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure