The reason for that optimism was because since 2008 they have already been able to grow and transplant relatively 'uniform-shaped' organs like a trachea. As time goes on, those operations will migrate from world-class facilities to regional hospitals, like regular transplants are today.
While no one has figured out how to make enough stem cells, or a scaffold, for a big, complex organ like a lung yet, they did something that was terrific with technology that exists now; they got smaller, rather than bigger.
Small as in toddler size. Hannah Warren, now 2 years old, was born without a windpipe. She couldn't eat, drink or even breathe on her own, which means her life consisted of a hospital room. Using adult stem cells from her bone marrow, the team created a scaffold and grew the new trachea. Then the 9-hour operation was led by Dr. Paolo Macchiarini of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the world's foremost surgeon in this area.
Video copyright of Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology, Inc. They created the "InBreath" scaffold and bioreactor and I interviewed David Green, President of Harvard Bioscience, for Not Science Fiction: The Road Map To Organ Transplants With No Waiting List
Hannah's parents, Darryl Warren and Lee Young-mi, said they had read about Macchiarini's work but could not afford the cost at Karolinska, so Dr. Mark Holterman got a Catholic hospital, Children's Hospital of Illinois, to waive the cost and they even brought in Macchiarini to lead the operation. This teaching hospital for the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria is part of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and while the Roman Catholic church is against human embryonic stem cell research, it supports the other forms of stem cell research and ate the hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to advance the science, the Associated Press noted.
Funnest part of the story: While the results look promising the doctors said on the conference conference call they won't know for another month or so if she can go home. And it will take time for her to learn how to talk. But doctors let her taste food for the first time - she got a lollipop.
Hannah Warren in a post-op room at the Children's Hospital of Illinois. Credit and link: AP Photo/OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Jim Carlson