The body's natural defences can be "re-educated" to stop them attacking organ transplants and remove the need for patients to take immune system suppressing drugs for life, claim scientists.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent The Telegraph
British-based researchers have discovered a way to reprogramme immune system cells so that they think the donated organ is a natural part of the recipient's body.
Not only will the development avoid patients having to take three different types of costly drugs every day of their life, it will also mean the donated organs lasts indefinitely.
Dr Pervinder Sagoo, co-author at King's College London, said: "We hope this is the holy grail that means that the recipient is completely tolerant to the transplanted organ for the rest of their life."
Currently patients must take around three immunosuppressant drugs a day to prevent a new organ from being rejected after transplantation.
However, these drugs suppress the entire immune system, leaving the patient susceptible to infections and tumours.
Transplanted organs are also put under pressure and often do not last longer than 10 years.
The new approach involves re-educating the immune system so that the body sees the organ as a natural part of the body.
The immune system carries on working in exactly the same way but because it does not see the new tissue as alien, leaves it alone.
The technique works by mixing the immune cells of the donor and the recipient in the laboratory to produce a kind of hybrid which is then copied millions of times.
These new cells of then injected into the recipient – spreading around the body and re-educating the immune system for life.
Ultimately this approach could extend the life of a transplanted organ and in turn, could alleviate the organ shortage problem.
The technique has already been used in animals and clinical human trials start at the end of the year.
Scientists hope it could be used in earnest within a decade.
Professor Robert Lechler, Vice-Principal for Health at King's, said: "This study is a promising step forward that could lead to dramatic advances in preventing organ rejection and improving the quality of life of transplant patients."
Dr Shannon Amoils, Research Advisor at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded both studies, said: "If the techniques used in these studies can be transferred to the clinic it could signal a move to replace long term use of immune-suppressing drugs.
"This would be a huge step forward for transplantation, more than four decades since the revolutionary treatment began."
The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine
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