DURHAM, N.C. - Using thymus tissue that is normally thrown away after pediatric heart surgery, physicians at Duke University Medical Center have created a new T cell immune system for two children who would have otherwise died.
The children suffered from DiGeorge Syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by either a flawed thymus gland or no thymus at all--as in the case of these two children. To help them, physicians implanted thin strips of thymus tissue into their thighs when they were infants. The children are now 1 1/2 and 6 years old and their new gland has provided a normally functioning immune system that requires no long-term drug support or clinical assistance, the researchers reported in the Oct. 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Even though the tissue was implanted from an unrelated donor, it cannot be rejected in patients who lack a thymus, the researchers said, because it is the thymus that produces immune cells that reject foreign tissue. After the transplant procedure, the new donor thymus tissue in the thighs of these children acted just like their own thymus organ would have.
"For these children at least, the transplant was a cure," said the lead investigator, pediatric immunologist Dr. Louise Markert, in an interview. "Early thymus transplantation prior to development of infectious complications can effectively restore immune function in these patients.
"The technique not only offers promise to some children born without a thymus, it demonstrates that medicine is now capable of restoring an immune system to those depleted of one," she said. "Today we have the tools to make this kind of technique work. We can slice thymus tissue thin enough to implant successfully and we can accurately measure immune response."
Three other children who received transplanted thymus tissue later died,
the researchers said. Two were on a ventilator at the time they were treated and
the third required a v
Contact: Renee Twombly
Duke University Medical Center