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Immune system drug may increase availability of liver transplants

Animal research at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has found that a drug already approved by the FDA for testing in people might one day dramatically expand the number of livers useable for human transplantation.

Studying rats with fatty livers, the researchers discovered that bathing the livers in a human immune system protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6) rescues them from failure when transplanted into other rats. The findings appear in the July issue of Gastroenterology.

Roughly 40 percent of adults in the United States have so-called "fatty" livers, which frequently fail to function at all or fail quickly when transplanted.

"IL-6 really works," says Zhaoli Sun, M.D., Ph.D., a scientist in the department of surgery. Sun cautions that IL-6's ability to "rescue" fatty livers for transplantation needs to be tested in larger animals, such as pigs, before human studies are undertaken.

"IL-6 is already approved for use in humans, but it has many negative effects when injected," says Sun. "Fortunately, our technique stores the liver in IL-6 before it's transplanted, rather than giving IL-6 to the organ recipient, so side effects should be minimized."

For his experiments, Sun developed two special rat colonies while an instructor in the laboratory of Andrew Klein, M.D., in collaboration with Anna Mae Diehl, M.D., a professor of gastroenterology whose research has focused on regeneration -- rather than transplantation -- of fatty liver. In humans, fatty livers generally stem from either diet or alcohol consumption, and the two rat models developed fatty livers under equivalent conditions.

After removing a fatty liver from one animal, and before transplanting it into another, Sun bathed the liver in a soup of nutrients that either did or did not include IL-6. Livers soaked in IL-6 had better blood flow and better function and allowed recipients to live, while fatty livers never exposed to IL-6 succumbe
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Contact: Joanna Downer
jdowner1@jhmi.edu
410-614-5105
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
29-Jul-2003


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