May 10, 2013

Scientists push frontiers in organ transplantation

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Unless you have an identical twin, needing an organ transplant comes with a serious problem even beyond the fact that you need a transplant. Assuming the surgery goes well, the minute the new organ is grafted into your body, your immune system will recognize it as foreign, akin to invading bacteria, and seek to destroy it.

greg kidneyTaking the kidney for an example, there was a time 25 years ago when half of kidney transplant recipients lost their transplant due to immune rejection. The field of transplant immunology has in recent years become very good at preventing this during the first year after transplant using drugs that turn down the immune response, but long-term rejection remains commonplace.

The immune systems of many organ recipients eventually destroy transplanted kidneys over ten to 15 years. Worse yet, patients live through those years with a suppressed immune system; making them vulnerable to viral infections, some of which cause cancer.

Research efforts to solve these thorny, remaining problems in transplant immunology continue, but the field is under duress thanks to cuts in federal research funding, says UAB's Rosyln Mannon, M.D., director of research at the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute and a kidney transplant specialist. She was among the organizers of a recent transplant immunology symposium held by the institute. 

Dr. Mannon sat down with The Mix to talk about research frontiers in transplantation, including efforts to design drugs that precisely turn down the activity of immune cells involved in transplant rejection, while ignoring those that fight infection.

Click here to hear Dr. Mannon's interview and see notes from the podcast.