In 2008, Claudia Castillo, age 30, underwent an operation to repair her windpipe. To eliminate the risk of rejection, surgeon Paolo Macchiarini of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona in Spain implanted a section of trachea seeded with stem cells taken from Castillo's bone marrow. It was the world's first transplant surgery involving stem cells.
Here's what she says about the experience:
I was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2004, and it gave me a lot of problems, especially at night. I kept coughing and coughing and getting worse. I spent a lot of time incapacitated, because I had to be quarantined. I also had bronchial stenosis, a condition in which the bronchial tubes narrow and make it hard to breathe. It's hard to fix because you can't just take out one section of the bronchus and leave the other. But my doctor said he had this new technique to transplant a section of trachea into the bronchus.
I was scared going into the operation. When you're the first person in the entire world to have a procedure, even the doctors don't know exactly what will happen. I walked into the operating room thinking, "Will I wake up? Will I not wake up?" They took a section of trachea out of the donor, cleaned it, and put my stem cells on it so they could implant it into me.
So far, my body hasn't rejected the organ, and I'm feeling good. Now I can walk up stairs without having to stop after every two steps. There is still a lot of recovery time ahead of me, and I'm not like I was before the illness, but if other people are considering this surgery, I would say "Go for it!"
- As told to Tetsuhiko Endo
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.