Harvard Bioscience Tool Used in First Transplants of Synthetic Tracheae

12/1/11Follow @arleneweintraub

How does a 110-year-old medical device company end up on the cutting edge of regenerative medicine? The answer: A little innovation and a lot of persistence.

That formula paid off this week for Holliston, MA-based Harvard Bioscience (NASDAQ: HBIO). On Monday, the company announced that a product it makes called the InBreath Bioreactor was featured in an article in the prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet. The article described the world’s first implantation of a synthetic trachea, which was made in the bioreactor using the patient’s own stem cells. The next day, Harvard Bioscience announced that the second synthetic trachea—also made with the InBreath—had been successfully implanted. “This is a big breakthrough at a time when there is not enough supply of donor organs,” says Harvard Bioscience’s president David Green.

For most of its long history, Harvard Bioscience has been known as a solid but relatively sleepy maker of scientific instruments, such as pumps and glassware used by drug researchers. The company markets 16 different brands, and last year it posted $19 million in profits on $108 million in sales.

In 2008, Green says, Harvard Bioscience started working with Massachusetts General Hospital on technology that can be used to grow lungs outside of the human body. Around that time, Green read a paper in The Lancet describing how physicians in Italy transplanted into a patient a new trachea that they constructed partially from donated tissues and partially from cells taken from the patient.

Green wanted to expand Harvard Bioscience’s presence in regenerative medicine, so he e-mailed the lead author of that paper, an Italian physician named Paolo Macchiarini, and expressed an interest in licensing the technology used to grow the trachea. The licensing agreement was sewed up in August 2009, and Harvard Bioscience got to work refining the technology.

The tracheas used in the two surgeries announced this week, both of which were performed by Macchiarini, were made slightly differently. The first patient—36-year-old Andemariam Beyene, who was suffering from inoperable tracheal cancer—received a tracheal scaffold made from … Next Page »

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