The Nobel Prize winners for 2012 shall be announced in October, the winner receiving the newly reformed Nobel Prize Medal and not to mention the rather generous cash prize! So why am I talking about this now?
Having recently read an article in New Scientist regarding the successful transplantation of the first donated vein in Sweden; I thought it rather apt to highlight that 100 years ago, the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Alexis Carrel "in recognition of his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood vessels and organs".
Alexis Carrel was a French surgeon who worked with his colleague Charles Lindbergh on a book titled The Culture of Organs and more importantly who invented the first perfusion pump. This pump enabled tissues and organs to exist outside the body - a huge advancement in surgery, enabling procedures such as open-heart surgery and introducing the idea of transplantations. His worked on vascular suture pioneered the surgical world, introducing techniques that form the basis of modern surgery such as triangulation. Carrel would perform surgical grafts and mend and reconnect broken arteries and veins – all inspired by his embroideress would you know!
Carrel lived in an era of scientific evolution and technological reform; thanks to the foundations set down by scientists of this time, the progress and status of science today is one to be most certainly proud of! Returning to this story in New Scientist, the success of this procedure has crucial implications for transplantations as we know it and it’s exciting! Let me briefly explain so that you can all be as excited as me.
You may have read about the growing of organs in laboratories, for transplantation, that have been coated with the recipient’s cells, in order to prevent rejection. Well, this is exactly what the team in Sweden have done; having stripped the vein of the donor’s cells using a detergent, the remaining protein scaffolding was used to build upon. The next step was to extracted the recipient’s cells and grow enough to coat this protein scaffolding. Using the recipient’s endothelial and smooth muscle cells, the Swedish team developed a new vein for transplantation. The recipient was a 10yr old girl who suffered from chronic blockages in her hepatic portal vein, one of the main blood vessels transporting blood from the gut to the liver; her growth and nutrition suffered greatly. The transplantation of this 9cm long vein has transformed her into an energetic child, full of life!
The world will come to see more of this transplantation method, reducing the risk significantly of rejection and expanding the sources available for organ donations. If scientists can consistently and successfully carry out this procedure of stripping and re-developing organs in a laboratory, then the era of waiting for an appropriate donor match is over – a lifesaving advancement, for whom we have Alexis Carrel to thank (amongst others of course!).