New Stem Cell Treatment for Bronchopleural Fistulas

Mayo Clinic researchers have made history by using a patient’s own stem cells to heal an open wound on the upper chest of a patient that had been caused by postoperative complications of lung removal.

A hole in the chest that opens to the outside is called a bronchopleural fistulae. Such wounds are holes that lead from large airways in the lungs to the membrane that lines the lungs.

Unfortunately, present treatments for bronchopulmonary fistulae tend to be terribly successful and death from such injuries are all too common.

According to Dr. Dennis Wigle, a Mayo Clinch Researcher, “Current management is not reliably successful. After exhausting therapeutic options, and with declining health of the patient, we moved toward a new approach. The protocol and approach were based on an ongoing trial investigating this method to treat anal fistulas in Cohn’s disease”.

So Dr. Wigle and his colleagues harvested stem cells from the belly fat of their patient and seeded onto a bioabsorbable mesh that was surgically implanted at the site of the fistula.

Follow-up imaging of the patient showed that the fistula had closed and remained healed. More than a year-and-a-half later, the patient remains asymptomatic and has been able to resume activities of daily living.

In their paper, Wigle and others describe their patient, a 63-year-old female patient, who was referred to Mayo Clinic for treatment of a large bronchopleural fistula.

Because present therapies offer little relief, Wigle and his team turned to regenerative therapies in order to try a more innovative treatment.

“To our knowledge, this case represents the first in human report of surgically placed stem cells to repair a large, multiple recurrent bronchopleural fistula. The approach was well tolerated suggesting the potential for expanded use,” said Dr. Wigle.

While this procedure was successful in this case, it is unclear if this treatment was the main contributor to the healing of the wound. Since this is a single-patient case study and not a double blinded, placebo-controlled study, it is lower-quality evidence.

However, Wigle and others hope to further examine this technique, and in particular, the use a patient’s own stem cells, to treat fistulae in the respiratory system.

This case study was published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, June 2016 DOI:10.5966/sctm.2016-0078.

Published by


Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).