02:56am Tuesday 21 January 2020

Stem cell breakthrough enters permanent national exhibition

From June 26 people will be able to see for themselves evidence of an international collaboration that made medical history, bringing together years of scientific and medical research in the first operation of its kind.

In 2008, the first bioengineered windpipe, made from the patient’s own stem cells, was successfully transplanted into a young woman whose airway had been badly damaged after a severe case of tuberculosis.  The operation ultimately saved Claudia Castillo’s life by allowing to her to breathe normally again – her only alternative would have been to remove her left lung, which would have left her impaired for life.

Using a technique developed at Padua University in Italy, a seven-centimetre tracheal segment donated by a transplant donor in Spain was stripped of all its cells to leave only a scaffold of collagen.  At a laboratory in Bristol, stem cells taken from Claudia’s bone barrow were grown and matured into cartilage cells.   A medical team in Barcelona then used an incubator to cultivate Claudia’s cells and persuade them to grow on the stripped-down scaffold of the donated trachea. They then fitted the patient with her new trachea.  Within 10 days, the 30-year-old mother of two was back with her children.

The cartilage cells used in the operation were grown using a method originally devised for treating osteoarthritis by Anthony Hollander, Arthritis Research UK Professor of Rheumatology and Tissue Engineering at the University of Bristol’s School of Medical Sciences.

A piece of cartilage engineered in a similar way now forms part of the Science Museum’s upgrade to its permanent ‘Who am I?’ exhibition, forming part of a display demonstrating how new technology, from stem cells to gene therapy, can help to repair damage caused by serious illness with life-changing results.

“I am delighted that the story of our stem cell advance will now be made accessible to the many millions of people who visit the Science Museum in London every year,” said Prof Hollander.  “The Museum plays a major role in encouraging children to pursue scientific careers – I was one of them, having grown up in London – and I hope that the engineering of a trachea will be an inspiration to future generations.”

The ‘Who am I?’ gallery, first opened ten years ago in the Science Museum’s Wellcome Wing, presents the latest in brain science and genetics, and is one of the most popular galleries.  The upgrade marks the end of the Science Museum’s Centenary year and explores some of the incredible breakthroughs in brain science and genetics.


Please contact Aliya Mughal for further information.

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