For many people, organ donation is an opportunity to use their own death to extend another person’s life. Hearts and lungs can be transplanted directly into another patient, while other tissues are first processed into medical products such as bone screws and skin grafts. But while repurposing human remains may be charitable, it is also an industry, an industry that sometimes prioritizes profit over safety and dignity.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has gathered information on the tissue trade for eight months, and published a disturbing exposé in the Sydney Morning Herald. The need for human body parts and lack of regulation means that not all tissue-derived medical products are obtained through legal channels, and not all remains are treated with respect.
The synthetic trachea, just before implantation
What’s the News: An African man’s new trachea is the world’s first synthetic organ to be transplanted. Made from a polymer scaffold coated with the patient’s own cells, the windpipe seems to be working out well, more than a month after the surgery.
Linda De Croock, a Belgian woman who had her throat crushed in a car accident a quarter-century ago, received one of the odder-sounding organ transplants we’ve ever heard: For two years, De Croock had a dead man’s windpipe growing inside her arm. Reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine, her doctors say they successfully implanted the donated trachea in her forearm and then moved it from there to where it belongs.
While the arm might seem a questionable place to put a windpipe, the point was to acclimate her body to the new organ and get her off anti-rejection drugs. Doctors at Belgium’s University Hospital Leuven implanted the donor windpipe in De Croock’s arm as a first step in getting her body to accept the organ and to restart its blood supply. About 10 months later, when enough tissue had grown around it to let her stop taking the drugs, the windpipe was transferred to its proper place [Canadian Press]. Since De Croock’s own tissue has grown around the windpipe, her body no longer considers it foreign and dangerous. A year has passed since the surgery to move the windpipe from her arm to her throat, and the doctors report she is doing well.