Stem cell treatment tricks immune system into accepting donor organs, study shows

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO Scientists have found a way to trick the immune system into accepting organs from a mismatched, unrelated organ donor, a finding that could help patients avoid a lifetime of drugs to prevent rejection of the donated organ.

Of eight kidney transplant patients who have been treated with this new approach, five have managed to avoid taking anti-rejection drugs a year after their surgery, according to the study published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.

And one patient, 47-year-old Lindsay Porter of Chicago, is completely free of anti-rejection drugs nearly two years after her kidney transplant.

This new approach would potentially offer a better quality of life and fewer health risks for transplant recipients

I hear about the challenges recipients have to face with their medications and it is significant. Its almost surreal when I think about it because I feel so healthy and normal, she said in a statement.

With conventional organ transplants, recipients need to take pills to suppress their immune systems for the rest of their lives. These drugs can cause serious side effects, including high blood pressure, diabetes, infection, heart disease and cancer.

This new approach would potentially offer a better quality of life and fewer health risks for transplant recipients, Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, director of the Institute of Cellular Therapeutics at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, who developed the new approach, said in a statement.

But some experts say the procedure, in which patients undergo a bone marrow transplant from an unmatched organ donor, is too risky, especially given the relative safety of kidney transplants.

We have to think about the risks and benefits. Since the current treatment is so stable, it really has to be safe, said Dr. Tatsuo Kawai, a transplant surgeon at Harvard Medical School, who wrote a commentary on the new approach in the journal.

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Stem cell treatment tricks immune system into accepting donor organs, study shows