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New discovery may help transplants survive

Boston, MA For the first time scientists have found that a growth factor called vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3 (VEGFR-3), known to cause the growth of lymphatic vessels in the body, controls how immune cells traffic (move) within the eye and also stimulates the immune system to reject corneal transplants--the most common type of transplantation performed. The researchers from the Schepens Eye Research Institute and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, both affiliates of Harvard Medical School, have also found that when this growth factor is blocked, corneal transplants survive. The study, published in the August issue of Nature Medicine, is the first to make a link between VEGEFR-3 and the body's immune response, and may hold significant promise not only for new treatments to prevent transplant rejection but also for diseases such as cancer that may proliferate because of VEGF-3.

"What we have discovered is a previously unknown connection or 'pathway' that stimulates the immune response in the eye and in other parts of the body," says Reza Dana, MD, MPH, a Senior Scientist at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an Associate Professor and corneal specialist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School, and the senior author of the study.

Each year, nearly 40 thousand Americans receive corneal transplants to replace injured or diseased corneas. Approximately 90 percent of corneal transplants are successful because the eye is intrinsically less likely to reject transplanted material than other parts of the body. However, to suppress rejection of corneal transplants, patients need to use steroid drops which can cause glaucoma, cataract development, and infection -- for years. Even then, many corneal transplants fail, and their failure can cause devastating vision loss. If transplants are placed in eyes suffering from inflammation (caused by a full-blown immune response to the original injury or disease), rej
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Contact: Patti Jacobs
pjacobs12@comcast.net
627-872-0364
Schepens Eye Research Institute
4-Aug-2004


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