Anti-rejection drugs could soon be thing of the past for transplant patients

2 Aug 2019

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Transplant patients may no longer have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives, according to new research.

For decades researchers have tried to find ways of giving those with transplanted organs a life without taking anti-rejection drugs, but to no avail. However, a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University has revealed findings that show this could one day be a thing of the past.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, the team showed the long-term survival and function of pancreatic islet transplants in monkeys, even though they had not received anti-rejection drugs for 21 days after the procedure. For humans, taking these drugs is effective in the beginning to prevent the immune system from going into shock, but it can have potentially damaging long-term consequences.

Because of their nature and suppression of the immune system overall, those with transplants are far more likely to develop serious infections and even cancer. Additionally, non-immunological side effects of immunosuppression, such as hypertension, kidney toxicity, diarrhoea and diabetes can diminish the benefits of transplantation.

This latest study used the unique attributes of modified donor white blood cells, infused into transplant recipients one week before and one day after the transplant. This, the research team said, recapitulates nature’s formula for maintaining the body’s tolerance of its own tissues and organs.

Without the need for long-term anti-rejection drugs, islet cell transplants could become the treatment option of choice, and possibly a cure, for many people living with type 1 diabetes.

“Our study is the first that reliably and safely induces lasting immune tolerance of transplants in non-human primates,” said senior author Bernhard Hering.

“The consistency with which we were able to induce and maintain tolerance to transplants in non-human primates makes us very hopeful that our findings can be confirmed for the benefit of patients in planned clinical trials in pancreatic islet and living-donor kidney transplantation – it would open an entirely new era in transplantation medicine.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic