Ciaran Finn-Lynch, an Irish boy who was born with a windpipe less than a tenth of an inch wide. At age 10, he was the first child in the world to get a transplant made from a donor organ and his own stem cells.
Many of Macchiarini's patients have been given only months or a few years to live, left with no options or any hope.
“You see a patient and this patient has no other alternatives,” Macchiarini said. “And he will die very, very soon. As a human and as a doctor are we allowed to say no? I don’t think so.”
Though it might sound like science fiction, scientists around the world are actively experimenting with this promising science. Recent accomplishments include Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's announcement that four teenage girls with a rare genetic disorder were implanted with lab-grown vaginas, and at the University of Basel in Switzerland, scientists regrew the nose tissue of older people whose noses had been partially lost to skin cancer.
But while scientists are eagerly working toward being able to grow vital organs like hearts, lungs and kidneys in the lab, it will be years before they are ready to attempt transplanting those in humans.
"As a human and as a doctor are we allowed to say no? I don’t think so."
But Dr. Macchiarini has already taken the science out of the lab. He first made headlines six years ago, in 2008, when he transplanted the world's first lab-made windpipe. It was constructed from a donor trachea that had been stripped of its original cells, leaving it as a skeleton upon which a new trachea could be built with the patient’s own stem cells. The groundbreaking method would allow Macchiarini to bypass two of the major problems associated with donated organs: the risk of rejection and the need to take powerful anti-rejection drugs.
Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to NBC News. She writes about health and science and her work has appeared in The Science Times, Newsday and The Los Angeles Times as well as national magazines including Smart Money and Health. She is coauthor of "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic" and the recently released "Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing's Greatest Rivalry." She lives in rural New Jersey.