You're not boarding with that – how transplant pioneers were grounded

Private jet chartered after easyJet refused to carry stem cells

The transplant of a lab-grown trachea was widely hailed as a major breakthrough in the science of stem- cell technology this week. But it almost never happened.

Yesterday it emerged that the mad dash to get the stem cells from Bristol – where they had been grown – to Barcelona, was delayed by obstinate airline staff. With a 16-hour window to transport the cells, the international medical team had to get to Barcelona as soon as they could. But despite the significance of the operation on Claudio Castillo, 30, they opted to fly easyJet to save money.

Yesterday, senior members of the team claimed check-in staff nearly jeopardised the entire operation by refusing to allow the stem cells on the plane, having initially agreed to the carriage. As a result, according to the doctors, the team was forced to charter a private jet for £14,000.

Professor Martin Birchall, a lead researcher on the project, said he had several conversations with the airline hours before the flight, and was given repeated reassurance it would be fine to take the cells on board. But when they arrived at the airport, the airline refused, said Professor Anthony Hollander, another scientist involved: "Check-in staff said they couldn't take the material on board, because it could be dangerous.

"After significant debate, we concluded that it wasn't going to happen."

"The clock was ticking," added Professor Birchall, "We had taken the cells out of their culture an hour before. We thought about driving to Barcelona, but that would have taken too long." In the end, the last-ditch scramble to transport the cells was only made possible by the ingenuity and quick-thinking of a German student on the trip, Philip Jungerbluth. "Philip knew a German surgeon who he said used to fly. We had a couple of conversations, and within two hours the surgeon was in Bristol – with his private jet".

EasyJet denies it initially agreed to carry the cells. Andrew McConnell, a spokesman for the airline, said calls for cell and organ transport are usually taken by the company's call centre in Poznan, Poland – but no such call was received on this occasion. "We do deal with human organs and would make an exception for a tight schedule, but there is no record of a passenger request to carry medical materials on board the flight," he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

    Recruitment Genius: Quality Inspector

    £20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Female Buddy & Team Leader / Buddy

    £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To join a team working with a female in her ...

    Recruitment Genius: Configuration and Logistics Team Member

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 30 years ...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence