The day when a human may be given a complete synthetic larynx seems to be a little closer following a pair of surgeries in Russia in which two patients received a chunk of the organ along with part of a trachea (windpipe).
On June 19 and June 21, patients Julia T. and Aleksander Z. successfully underwent the world's first successful laryngotracheal implants in Russia.
Each patient was implanted with a synthetic part about five centimeters long, consisting of a section of the trachea, at the top of which was a version of the cricoid arch and plate - a hollow, collar-like segment that forms the base of the larynx.
The implants were created from synthetic scaffolds seeded with the patients' own stem cells.
The laryngotracheal transplants were the most complex synthetic part yet transplanted, and is the first step in the creation of a complete larynx, including the parts that produce sound.
Since each patient's own stem cells were used, their bodies have accepted the transplants without the use of immunosuppressive drugs.
The transplant procedures, which required more than a half-year of preparation, were the first two in a clinical trial initiated at the Krasnodar Regional Hospital in Krasnodar, Russia.
The key technology behind the surgeries was a shoebox-sized apparatus known as a bioreactor, created by Holliston, MA-based Harvard Bioscience, in which the new custom-designed organs were grown.
Bioreactors were especially designed for each patient. Each bioreactor was loaded with a "scaffold" in the shape of each patient's original organ; over the course of about two days at Krasnodar Regional Hospital, the scaffold was rotated inside the bioreactor while its surface was soaked with stem cells taken from a bone marrow biopsy from each patient.