"So, what was left from the donor -- the cartilage in the tracheal rings -- is still donor-derived," said Sykes, who is also associate director of the Transplantation Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
After four months of being embedded in the woman's forearm, the trachea -- now made up of cells from both the recipient and donor -- was carefully removed, along with its new blood vessels, and transplanted into her neck.
CT images taken after the operation "showed that the airway had been restored by the tracheal transplant," the researchers said, and "since the removal of the airway stents, the patient has had no further episodes of bronchitis or pneumonia."
One year later, the woman remains "satisfied with the outcome" and has no need for anti-rejection drugs, the team said.
According to Delaere, it's tough to say just how many patients could benefit from this type of procedure in the future. However, because of its high level of safety and the lack of need for immunosuppressive therapy, "this procedure may become the standard of care," he said.
Sykes noted that transplant specialists have toyed in the past with the notion of boosting the vasculature of transplanted tissue beforehand, "but the idea of doing that in one place [on the body] and then implanting it in another -- that's really new."
The procedure is "a breakthrough in the context of tracheal reconstruction," Sykes said. "It's a way of repairing large tracheal defects that couldn't be repaired before."
The United Network for Organ Sharing has more on organ transplant.
SOURCES: Megan Sykes, M.D.,, professor, surgery and medicine, Harvard Medical School, and associate director, Transplantation Biology Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Pierre Delaere, M.D., Ph.D., professor, otolaryngology, University Hospital Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; Jan. 14, 2010, New England Journal of Medicine