Introduction: Prosthetic replacements, autologous tissue transfer and allografts have so far failed to offer functional solutions for the treatment of long circumferential tracheal defects and loss of a functioning larynx. Interest has therefore turned increasingly to the field of tissue-engineering which applies the principles and methods of bioengineering, material science, cell transplantation and life sciences in an effort to develop in vitro biological substitutes able to restore, maintain or improve tissue and organ function.
Areas covered: This article gives an overview of the tissue-engineering approach to airway replacement and will describe the encouraging results obtained so far in tracheal regeneration. The recent advances in the field of tissue-engineering have provided a new attractive approach towards the concept of functional substitutes and may represent an alternative to the shortage of suitable grafts for reconstructive airway surgery. We summarize fundamental questions, as well as future directions in airway tissue engineering.
Expert opinion: The replacement of active movement, as would be necessary to replace an entire larynx introduces another order of magnitude of complexity, although progress in this area is starting to bear fruit. In addition, the stem cell field is advancing rapidly, opening new avenues for this type of therapy.