Kidney transplants could become more common and less cumbersome, thanks to a new procedure which adds a second transplant of stem cells from the donor. Normally patients who get organ transplants face a lifetime of expensive anti-rejection drugs but this may change with a new procedure in which a second transplant – this time of the organ donor’s stem cells. Normally donors have to take anti-rejection drugs all their lives since the immune system is geared to fight foreign substances. Unless there is a perfect match donor match, patients have to wait for a long time for an organ transplant.
Though in its early stages, the new study is being hailed as a potential game-changer in the field of transplantation, a development which could aid millions of potential organ transplant recipients.
The small study describes an old fashioned cancer treatment along with cell therapy in five patients to accept donor kidneys despite incompatibility. If the technique proves successful in a larger group of people, patients will only need to take the anti-rejection drugs briefly and others who rely on them could discontinue them safely. It’ll also increase the pool of available donors for patients who need all sorts of organs like kidneys, heart, lung, liver and pancreas. The strategy could offer hope, too, for patients receiving bone marrow transplants to treat blood cancers, speeding the process of finding a donor by allowing physicians to use stem cells that today would be rejected as incompatible.
According to one of researchers this is one of the most exciting developments in organ transplants in the last 50 years and could result in more successful and safer organ transplants. It’d also greatly improve the quality of life in patients who will no longer be reliant on anti-rejection drugs all their life. It can also solve the donor shortage issue, by increasing the pool of potential donors. According to the National Kidney Foundation, over 4500 patients died in 2008 due to shortage of donors.
The second transplantation closely resembles a bone marrow transplant — a treatment that’s been used to treat blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma for decades. This led patients’ immune system to induce a phase called chimerism – a state where the immune system accepts foreign tissues as its own. Key to this was refining each donor’s stew of cells into an elixir enriched for adult stem cells and a heretofore unrecognized class of cells dubbed “tolerogenic graft-facilitating cells.”