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Stem cell technique gives ill Northern Ireland boy a new windpipe

Pioneering surgery to rebuild an 11-year-old boy's windpipe using his own stem cells was hailed a success today.

Ciaran Finn-Lynch became the first child in the world to undergo the pioneering trachea transplant in March and is set to return home to Northern Ireland.

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London took stem cells from his bone marrow and injected them into a donor windpipe stripped of its own cells.

They implanted the organ and allowed the stem cells to transform themselves into trachea cells in his own body. By using his cells, doctors could avoid Ciaran's immune system rejecting the organ.

Ciaran's parents, Colleen and Paul, paid tribute to the surgeons who saved their son.

Ciaran was born with a condition called long segment tracheal stenosis, which leaves sufferers with a narrow windpipe — in his case just 1mm across.

He underwent major surgery to reconstruct his airways but, at the age of two, a metal stent used to hold his airway open eroded into the aorta artery.

He went through more surgery, including two attempts to rebuild his airway, and finally left hospital after eight months.

He lived a full life until last November when a stent again eroded, causing a “massive bleed”.

Colleen said: “I'd bought him a new shirt and he came downstairs with it on. The next moment there was blood coming from everywhere. There was so much blood I couldn't give him any breaths, I really thought I had lost him.”

His specialists turned to pioneering stem cell treatment.

The trachea was “seeded” then transplanted into his body, where it was allowed to grow.

Ciaran went under the knife in March, just four weeks after a donor trachea was found in Italy, and now doctors have confirmed his new windpipe is working well.

“We didn't have much choice when it came to the operation,” Colleen said. “If Ciaran had one more bleed I don't think he would have made it.”

She said they had “100% faith” in the transplant team, led by Great Ormond Street's Professor Martin Elliott.

“When they initially suggested the procedure we agreed to it, knowing it would be the first time it had been tried in a child, as we have 100% faith in them and the work they do. Martin Elliott has saved his life so many times, we trust him 100%. They were the best people in the world to treat our son.”

Ciaran, who turned 11 last month, is looking forward to going home and is likely to return to school next month.

Prof Elliott said the transplant team was “delighted” Ciaran could go home.

He said Ciaran would need regular follow-ups to check on his progress, and to learn what to expect for the next patient who may need the innovative therapy.

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