Dr. Cady's Lab Helps Make Medical History

Photo courtesy: Jim Carlson/OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

By Susan Andrews
May 2, 2013

Two and a half year-old Hannah Warren sits on her hospital bed with her Dyna-box, a communication device that looks like a popular tablet, blowing kisses to her visitors.

Hannah is not your typical toddler. She was born without a trachea and has spent every day of her young life in a hospital at a neonatal intensive care unit in a hospital in Seoul, Korea. But now as a result of a first of its kind in the world trachea transplant that took place on April 9 at Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, part of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, she has a new windpipe and a new course to chart.

Hannah’s nine-hour surgery is unique as she was the first child to ever receive a tissue-engineered, bioartificial trachea that was made with non-absorbable nanofibers and non-embryonic stem cells from her own bone marrow.

Prior to the surgery, Dr. Craig Cady, associate professor of biology at Bradley, along with his graduate research assistant, Feras Altwal, played a role in the successful operation. In Cady’s lab on the morning of the surgery Hannah’s stem cells were evaluated to determine if they were healthy, growing and repopulating the new nanofiber tracheal scaffold.  Once this was successfully determined the surgery could then go forward.

Prior to the life-saving operation, Hannah was unable to breathe, talk, swallow, eat or drink. After the surgery, Hannah was able to breathe almost entirely on her own and has tasted her first lollipop. In the coming months, she will work on learning to swallow with the hope that the feeding tube into her stomach can be removed and she can eat on her own. A future operation will attach her vocal cords so she will be able to talk.

“This is the future of organ transplant, this is like a new chapter in medicine,” said Dr. Richard Pearl, Surgeon-in-Chief at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Pearl likens this breakthrough to the first liver transplant, the first heart transplant and even the discovery of Penicillin.

Since Hannah's own cells were used from regenerative tissue, there was no need for the transplant of a donor organ or the use of immunosuppressive (anti-rejection) drugs. There is virtually no risk that her immune system will reject the transplant.

The ground-breaking surgical team was led by Dr. Paolo Macchiarini of Italy, professor of regenerative surgery at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden and lead surgeon.

Dr. Mark Holterman, professor of surgery and pediatrics at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and co-surgeon said, “Hannah’s case is a great example of how the international community can work together to save a child’s life.”

In today’s highly global and complex society, solutions to the big challenges are rarely solo missions. “Due to the need for multiple areas of advanced expertise and the high cost of the latest medical technologies, the formation of collaborative high-performing teams are essential,” Cady said.  

Altwal, Cady’s graduate assistant, was excited to be part of the collaborative team.  “I'm eagerly looking forward to utilizing my experience to further promote the field of regenerative medicine at Bradley under the supervision of Professor Cady to help heal disparate patients who are in need of such therapies in the future,” he said.

It took just such a pioneering team to give a new beginning to the jubilant and delightful Hannah Warren.