Anatoly Khlopkov, 65, from Rogachev in Gomel region was a smoker for over 40 years. He was diagnosed with the third stage of lung cancer that spread to trachea. The names of doctors who saved his life went down in history. Three months ago Belarusian specialists conducted a unique cancer surgery: they transplanted a prosthetic trachea using bio-cell technology.
The surgery was performed at the Republican Center of Positron Emission Tomography that is division of N.N. Alexandrov National Cancer Centre. Some of the steps of the surgery method are unique and are, in fact, a breakthrough in medicine.
When Anatoly arrived at the Center he was suffering from shortness of breath. The man was operated three months ago. Two weeks later he was released from hospital. At present the disease is not progressing. Anatoly confesses that the desire to live helped him overcome the fear of surgery.
It took Belarusian scientists five years to make this breakthrough — during this time the research was going on in the framework of a special state program. 250 thousand Belarusian rubles (~$125 thousand) were contributed from the state budget; other 50 thousand (~25 thousand) came from the budget of the Center itself.
“The patient was suffering from lung cancer; his windpipe was damaged by the disease as well. His trachea and lung had to be removed. But what would replace those organs?” , Oleg Sukonko, Director of Cancer Centre, explains.
The trachea was taken from a deceased person. Its cellular elements were removed thus turning it into sort of a matrix, a universal work piece.
Then stem cells were extracted from the patient’s bone marrow and sent to the laboratory where they were planted onto the specially prepared trachea of another person. A synthetic trachea was grown from stem cells and eventually transplanted.
“Believe me, from the scientific point of view it is much harder than an ordinary transplantation of any organ, including the heart”, Oleg Sukonko stressed.
The surgery consisted of five stages. Some of them had previously been performed in other countries. But no one had done the whole complex before. The Belarusian doctors were the first ones.
Revascularization (the restoration of perfusion to a body part or organ that has suffered ischemia — note) stage is the know-how of Belarusian specialists. In this case a purified donor’s trachea is planted inside a patient’s muscle. It allows more nutrition to implanted cells and reduces the risk of post-surgery complications.
The idea was proposed by Vladimir Zharkov, PhD, professor, and head of the surgical department.
“We were preparing several patients for this surgery”, Zharkov says. “We also had a patient with recurrent thyroid cancer that grew massively in the trachea. However, on the second day after admission he died, we had not even completed the examination”.
Prosthetic reconstruction of trachea is done in different ways over the world. Operations of such kind are carried out in Russia, Spain, Belgium, England, and the United States, but the survival rate of the patients is rather low. In most cases they die from pneumonia, since the transplanted trachea does not shrink and does not allow them to expectorate sputum.
The Belarusian medics believe in good prospects for their patient.
“It is obvious already that the body will not reject the trachea, it functions properly. Three months is enough time to judge”, Oleg Sukonko notes. “However, the patient will be observed for his entire life”.
Two more people are being prepared for the same surgery at present. Donor trachea are being prepared as well.
Anatoly Khlopkov visited the Center for an examination.
“I am grateful to doctors for being alive”, he confessed. “I knew that the operation will be carried out for the first time, but when choosing between life and death, I realized that I have one option — to agree to do it”.