“That was the first time that a transplant an organ built from stem cells had ever been performed in a person and it seemed to work first time. It was a major breakthrough for science and technology,” says Martin.
Professor Martin Birchall co-led the pioneering research team which carried out the first transplant of a human windpipe reconstructed using stem cells. Starting out as a head and neck cancer surgeon, Martin spent many years working on conventional tissue transplantation. In 2008, Martin used tissue engineering techniques he and his team had been developing in pigs to partially reconstruct a new trachea (windpipe) for a patient using her own stem cells.
Again, in 2010, this team replaced the entire trachea in an 11 year old boy at Great Ormond Street. Although it is still early, both are doing well. Professor Birchall now runs a research programme looking at ways of applying stem cells and tissue engineering to the laryngeal disorders. Clinically, he specialises in voice and swallowing disorders, as one of four internationally renowned laryngologists at the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital/Ear Institute. He was Morgan Stanley/Daily Telegraph Briton of the Year in 2008 (Science and Technology) and elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2010.