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The ends do not justify the means, but justify finding better means

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Seriously, all this talk about how evil stem cell research is makes us forget that, when done in the right way, it’s quite a feat, and the miracles the medical community will be able to achieve with it are worth looking into ethical ways of doing stem cell research.

Woman given windpipe created in laboratory

LONDON, England (CNN) — Doctors have given a woman a new windpipe with tissue engineered from her own stem cells in what experts have hailed as a “milestone in medicine.”

The breakthrough allowed Claudia Castillo, 30, to receive a new section of trachea — an airway essential for breathing — without the risk that her body would reject the transplant.

Castillo was given the stem cell surgery, the controversial branch of medicine that some say could lead to human cloning, after suffering a severe lung collapse.

The condition, caused by long-term tuberculosis left Castillo, a Colombian now living in Barcelona, unable to carry out simple domestic duties or care for her two children.

The only conventional option was a major operation to remove her left lung, a risky procedure with a high mortality rate.

A team from the universities of Barcelona, Spain; Bristol, England; and Padua and Milan, Italy, decided instead to replace Castillo’s lower trachea and bronchial tube to her left lung with a lab-grown airway.

The operation, reported Wednesday in the British medical journal The Lancet, has been hailed as a major leap for medicine that could offer new hope for patients suffering from serious illness.

“Surgeons can now start to see and understand the very real potential for adult stem cells and tissue engineering to radically improve their ability to treat patients with serious diseases,” said Martin Birchall, professor of surgery at the University of Bristol, who was part of the team that did the operation.

“We believe this success has proved that we are on the verge of a new age in surgical care.”

To create the new windpipe, the team took a seven-centimeter (2.75-inch) segment of trachea from a 51-year-old who had died. Over a six-week period, the team then removed all the cells from the donor trachea, because those cells could lead to rejection of the organ after transplant.

All that remained of the donor’s stripped-down trachea was a matrix of collagen, a sort of scaffolding onto which the team then put Castillo’s own stem cells — along with cells taken from a healthy part of her trachea. Birchall had already taken Castillo’s stem cells from her bone marrow and grown them into a large population in his Bristol lab.

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