The world's first ever synthetic organ has been successfully been implanted into a patient in Sweden. The organ, a section of a windpipe called the trachea, is made from a nanocomposite polymer scaffold — a polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane polycarbonate-urea urethane, or POSS-PCU — which has been used to grow tissue generated from the patient's own stem cells. The fact that the organ can be grown from the patient's own cells means that, crucially for doctors and patients, the operation does not require a donor.
POSS-PCU is a liquid plastic that sets solid when it is heated up or cooled down and is porous when solid. And it is this "liquid-like properties that have made it ideal for an organ implant like this. Its application in cell scaffolds has been widely researched by academics for several years. Its properties are extremely beneficial for implantable cell scaffolds, especially compared with conventional favourite polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and its expanded version ePTFE.
In the past, POSS-PCU has been used for cardiovascular stent-graft applications as an alternative to PTFE and ePTFE. It has been argued that it is more effective in these applications thanks to its elastic and viscous behaviour, very similar to the native artery. Furthermore, platelet adhesion and activation studies suggest that POSS-PCU is a more biocompatible material than ePTFE, thereby promoting improved short and long term patency.
According to the developer of POSS-PCU, Alex Seifalian, the polymer can be used for many more organs than just the trachea. One possibility is using it for breast reconstructions. For post-cancer mastectomy patients, use of the polymer would enable more effective breast reconstruction than the fat cells currently used.
But there's a cosmetic purpose, too. For silicone breast implants, the polymer can be used as a coating making them stronger and less prone to bursting.