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Soon, a stem cells jab to beat organ rejection

London, Mar 11, 2012, (PTI) : 15:59 IST
Scientists have developed a new stem cells injection that helps generating a modified immune system in patients undergoing kidney transplants, a breakthrough they say could have a "major impact" on transplant science.

Early tests of the new injection given to a small number of patients in the US have been successful and researchers claimed it could remove the need for a lifetime of drugs which currently transplant patients take to suppress the immune system, the BBC News reported.

One of the problems associated with organ transplantation is the risk that the body will "recognise" the new organ as a foreign invader and attack it. To prevent this, patients take powerful drugs to suppress their immune systems, and will have to do this for life.

The drugs come at a price, preventing organ rejection but increasing the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and serious infection.

But with the new method, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers said patients would no longer need anti-rejection medication.

The study, carried out at the University of Louisville and the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, involved eight patients whose transplant came from a live donor, who also underwent a procedure to draw stem cells -- the building blocks of their immune system, from the blood.

The transplant recipient's body was prepared using radiotherapy and chemotherapy to suppress their own immune system. Then the transplant went ahead, with the stem cells put into their body a couple of days later.

Dr Joseph Leventhal, at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: "The preliminary results from this ongoing study are exciting and may have a major impact on organ transplantation in the future."

He said that, as well as kidney patients, the technique might improve the lives of those receiving other organs.

According to the scientists, the idea is that these will help generate a modified immune system that no longer attacks the organ or its new owner.

Although the patients started off with the same anti-rejection drugs, the aim was to reduce these slowly, hopefully withdrawing them completely over time, they said.

Five out of the eight patients involved in the trial managed to do this within a year.

While stem cells from organ donors have been used before, this is the first time it has been used for "mismatched" transplants, in which donors and recipients do not have to be related and immunologically similar, the researchers added.

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