Stem Cell Therapy Could Boost Kidney Transplant Success: Study

TUESDAY, March 20 (HealthDay News) -- A novel technique that uses a kidney transplant recipient's own stem cells may someday replace or reduce the initial use of anti-rejection medications, new research suggests.

Six months after receiving a kidney transplant, only about 8 percent of people given their own mesenchymal stem cells experienced rejection compared with almost 22 percent of people on the standard anti-rejection drugs, according to the study.

"Mesenchymal stem cells are stem cells that can be differentiated into a variety of cells," explained Dr. Camillo Ricordi, study senior author and director of the Cell Transplant Center and Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"If you infuse mesenchymal stem cells at the time of the transplant, you could replace the use of powerful anti-rejection drugs, and maybe replace immunosuppressants altogether," he said. This technique could be used in the transplantation of islet cells (in the pancreas) for people with type 1 diabetes, and for other organ transplants, such as the liver, he added.

The people given their own stem cells also had improved kidney function earlier after transplant, Ricordi said.

Results of the study appear in the March 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One of the biggest remaining hurdles in organ transplantation remains the need for powerful anti-rejection and immune-suppressing medications after the transplant.

"Basically, the way we prevent kidney rejections is by putting you on very powerful anti-rejection drugs and immunosuppressive agents to prevent your cells from attacking the foreign organ," said Dr. Robert Provenzano, chair of the department of nephrology, hypertension and transplantation at St. John Providence Health System in Detroit. "But, the current standard has some problems, like an increased risk of infections and the possibility of creating a cancer."

The body's immune system sends out surveillance cells to protect the body against foreign invaders, such as a bacteria, virus or, in this case, a new organ, Provenzano said. The current method of preventing these cells from attacking the new organ is essentially to destroy the surveillance cells. But mesenchymal cells can naturally suppress those surveillance cells so they don't attack, he said.

To see if this suppression would be enough to prevent rejection, Ricordi and his colleagues, including researchers from Xiamen University in China, recruited 159 people with serious kidney disease who were on dialysis. They ranged in age from 18 to 61.

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Stem Cell Therapy Could Boost Kidney Transplant Success: Study

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