Claudia Castillo: The pioneer's story

'Now I feel great. I am honoured'

Claudia Castillo was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2004. "It started with a cough and I spent three months trying to find out what was wrong with me," she said. "I had many wrong diagnoses."

Originally from Columbia, she lives in Barcelona with her two children, Johan, 15, and Isabella, four. At first, her TB was treated with drugs but the infection was so severe that this year she suffered a collapsed trachea and bronchus (windpipe) to her left lung. She was admitted to hospital in March with acute shortness of breath, unable to look after her children or clean or shop or cook. The only options were to remove her left lung, which carried massive risks, or a transplant. "Of course I was afraid," she said. "But I wanted to be well again."

The surgeons obtained a donor trachea from a 51-year-old woman who died of a cerebral haemorrhage. A research group at the University of Padua washed the organ in an "enzymatic detergent" which destroys all the living cells, leaving only the mechanical framework, consisting of collagen.

The trachea was then customised with Ms Castillo's cells, grown at the University of Bristol from stem-cell samples from her bone marrow to create the cartilage, and from the inside of her nose to create the epithelium (inner lining). The "seeding" of the trachea with the new cells was performed using a "bioreactor" developed at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy.

Four days later, the trachea was transplanted. Ten days later, Ms Castillo went home, having had no complications, and without having to take toxic, immunosuppressant drugs, as is customary with organ replacements. Two months later, tests showed the operation had been a success. "I feel great, I am honoured," Ms Castillo said. This disease can be treated and people can be made well."

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