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Reconstructive surgeon aims for rejection-free limb transplantation

Years ago, the idea of attaching a donor limb onto a patient's body would have been the stuff of science fiction. But to date about two-dozen people around the world have received hand transplants. Thomas Tung, M.D., conducts research within this relatively unorthodox realm of surgery, investigating therapies that could potentially allow the body to accept donor tissue without the use of immunosuppressive medication.

A Washington University plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Tung has reattached patients' own hands, but he has never performed a hand transplant - he feels the health risks of immunosuppressive drugs are too high to warrant the surgery. But with his research, he is working toward the day when reconstructive surgery can make use of donor tissues without the danger of complications from anti-rejection medication or the risk of tissue rejection.

"Once we figure this out, it's going to open up a new whole field of reconstructive surgery," says Tung, assistant professor of surgery. "It will allow surgeons to replace not just injured hands, but lips, noses, ears, scalp and other specialized tissues anywhere on the body."

To reach this goal, Tung has been researching transplantation of hindlimbs to mice from unrelated donors - but here's the twist - without giving the mice immunosuppressive drugs. At this time, Tung is the only researcher in the United States investigating limb transplantation with this protocol, which uses proteins called costimulation-blocking antibodies.

With current treatment methods, all transplantation patients take medications that reduce the function of their immune systems so their bodies don't reject the foreign tissue. But long-term use of immunosuppressive medication raises the risk of infection and cancer because the weakened immune system is unable to ward off these threats. Furthermore, immune suppression therapy eventually fails, and transplanted organs undergo r
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Contact: Gwen Ericson
ericsong@wustl.edu
314-286-0141
Washington University School of Medicine
7-Sep-2006


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