STANFORD, Calif. - Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center have discovered a way to transplant kidneys without having the patient remain on a lifelong course of immune-suppressing drugs in order to prevent rejection. As an added bonus, the donor kidneys don't even need to come from a relative - a restriction that has severely limited kidney availability to sick people in need.
"Transplantation is a life-saving procedure, but the price is the lifelong use of immune-suppressing drugs," said Samuel Strober, MD, professor of immunology and rheumatology at Stanford School of Medicine and leader of the study. Strober noted that these powerful drugs leave kidney recipients open to infection and increase the risk of heart disease or cancer later in life.
Research results from four patients in the groundbreaking study will be presented April 28 in Washington, DC, at the American Transplant Congress by Maria Millan, MD, transplant surgeon at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and assistant professor of surgery. The work is also scheduled to be published in the journal Transplantation May 15.
Organ rejection after transplantation occurs because the immune system scans for foreign cells. If the immune system in the transplant recipient weren't heavily suppressed, it would attack cells in the transplanted organ, leading to rejection.
Strober said the study asks two questions: Can you get patients off the drugs and, if so, for how long? "We feel we can answer yes to the first question," Strober said, adding that so far, two of the four patients in the study are completely free of drugs, with another still tapering off.
This new approach to kidney transplantation began in the usual way, with surgery followed by immune-suppressing drugs, which were needed to prevent organ rejection while the team completed the next step.