A 2-year-old girl who was implanted with a windpipe grown from her own stem cells has died, three months after she became the youngest person to receive the experimental treatment.
Hannah Warren died Saturday at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, hospital spokeswoman Shelli Dankoff said. Dr. Rick Pearl, one of three surgeons involved in the operation, told The Associated Press that Hannah died of lung complications following a second surgery, but that the new windpipe "worked very well" until the end.
Her family asked for privacy, but expressed their sorrow in a fundraising blog updated Sunday: "She is a pioneer in stem-cell technology and her impact will reach all corners of our beautiful Earth. Her new trachea was performing well, but her lungs went from fairly good, to weak, to poor."
Hannah's treatment was part of an ongoing scientific effort to develop lab-grown tissues and organs. Similar methods have been used to grow bladders, urethras and last year a girl in Sweden got a lab-made vein using her own stem cells and a cadaver vein.
In Hannah's case, the stem cells came from her bone marrow. They were seeded in a lab onto a plastic scaffold, where it took a few days for them to multiply and create a new windpipe, which was implanted April 9.
Hannah was born in South Korea and traveled to Illinois for the surgery. A pediatric surgeon in Peoria had met Hannah's family while on a business trip to South Korea and helped connect them with Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, an Italian surgeon based in Sweden who pioneered the technique.
Hannah's parents, Darryl Warren and Lee Young-mi, had read about Macchiarini's success using stem-cell based tracheas, but they couldn't afford to pay for the operation at his center in Stockholm. Dr. Mark Holterman, the Illinois doctor, helped the family arrange to have the procedure at his hospital with Macchiarini leading the surgical team. Children's Hospital waived the cost.
The hospital is part of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, a Roman Catholic system that considers the operation part of its mission to provide charity care and a way to champion a type of stem-cell therapy that doesn't involve human embryos, the surgeons said in April. The Catholic church opposes using stem cells derived from human embryos in research or treatment.
Hannah had lived in a Seoul hospital all her short life before flying to the U.S. and her lungs weren't strong, said Pearl, who is surgeon-in-chief at Children's Hospital. She required a second surgery June 11 for a leak in her esophagus. Lung complications followed.
The girl's family and her caregivers believe the knowledge gained from her surgery will benefit other patients.
"We learned the trachea transplant worked. That's very important and nobody should lose sight of that," Pearl said.
Hannah would have been 3 years old on Aug. 22.
"We will forever miss her infectious personality and miraculous strength and spirit," her family wrote on their blog.
AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this report.
AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson
Regenerative Medicine: http://1.usa.gov/13IWdrx
Earlier on HuffPost:
<strong>When and Where:</strong> July 2011, Spain A young man in his 20s underwent a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/12/double-leg-transplant-first_n_896442.html" target="_hplink">10-hour surgery in Valencia</a> just last Sunday to give him a new set of legs. Doctors hope that the patient will be able to walk with the help of crutches within about a year -- depending on how his nerves regenerate. A double-leg transplant had never been attempted before, in large part because in most cases of leg amputation, highly effective prosthetic legs can be used instead. The effectiveness of this surgery remains to be seen, but Dr. Pedro Cavadas, the doctor who performed the surgery, is hopeful. Dr. Cavadas <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/12/double-leg-transplant-first_n_896442.html" target="_hplink">also performed the first face and double-hand transplants</a> done in Spain. Photo Credit: Getty
<strong>When and Where:</strong> July 2011, Sweden Not only did this surgery mark the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/artificial-windpipe-transplant_n_892350.html" target="_hplink">first time an artificial windpipe was transplanted</a>, but it also marked the first time any synthetic organ had been transplanted. The windpipe was created in a lab in England and then coated in the patient's stem cells before the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/artificial-windpipe-transplant_n_892350.html" target="_hplink">12-hour surgery began</a>. These cells mean that he does not have to fear organ rejection, as most transplant patients do and is not on any sort of immunosuppressive drugs.
<strong>When and Where: </strong>March 2010, Spain Also performed in Spain, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/26/oscar-first-full-face-tra_n_659196.html" target="_hplink">world's first full-face transplant</a> occurred just last year (the first partial-face transplant happened in 2005). The patient was a 31-year-old farmer who had accidentally shot himself in the face a few years prior. He is still undergoing physical therapy, although much of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/26/oscar-first-full-face-tra_n_659196.html" target="_hplink">sensation in his face has returned</a> and his muscles have developed. Only a week after the transplant, he began to grow a beard. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/09/face-transplant-press-conference_n_859391.html?" target="_hplink">first full-face transplant in the United States</a> occurred this past May.
U.S. Double-Hand Transplant
<strong>When and Where:</strong> May 2009, Pittsburgh Although it was the ninth double-hand transplant in the world, the nine-hour surgery marked the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/06/double-hand-transplant-ge_n_198538.html" target="_hplink">first time that this procedure had been done in the United States</a>. Georgia native Jeff Kepner, 58, had lost his hands 10 years earlier to a bacterial infection. Although the surgery was an initial success, Kepner is <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/26/double.hand.transplant/index.html" target="_hplink">still undergoing intensive physical therapy</a> and has not regained full control over his new apendages. Photo Credit: Getty
More and more, technological innovation is the driving force behind saving lives through transplantation. At recent TED conferences, two lectures were given that clearly demonstrated the exciting progress that is on the horizon. At TEDMED 2010, thoracic surgeon, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, M.D., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/tedmed-2010-superorgans_n_811894.html" target="_hplink">showed the audience a machine that allows an organ to survive</a> for an extended period of time outside of the body at a normal temperature. This allows an organ to be examined and treated before it is put into the recipient's body. Keshavejee demonstrated the machine's efficacy by allowing audience members to come up at touch a live pig's lung that had been recovered earlier that day. At a TED conference this past March, <a href="http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-03-surgeon-kidney-ted-stage.html" target="_hplink">Dr. Anthony Atala used a bioprinting machine</a> to print out the mold of a human kidney. As this technology is developed further, scientists hope that it could eventually (most likely not for years) lead to the ability to print out fully-functional, artificial organs.