Immune Transplant — The UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center
The pioneering work of Thomas E. Starzl, MD, has made UPMC a leader in organ transplantation, and his work with immunosuppression has led to improved outcomes for transplant recipients, making organ transplant a standard of care all over the world.
Driven by this research and our transplant expertise, the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center is focusing on the future. And, the future of organ transplant is immune transplantation.
The Current State of Transplant
The immune system protects the body from disease.
Currently, all patients who receive a transplant need to take life-long anti-rejection drugs. These drugs work by essentially suppressing the person’s immune system to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ.
Although anti-rejection medications have been successful, they increase the patient’s risk of infections, kidney failure, and certain types of cancer.
The Future of Transplant: Immunotherapy to Reduce Organ Rejection
At UPMC, our research has led to the development of new immunosuppression techniques. These techniques allow us to modify the immune system so that the patient’s body does not reject the donor organ. Instead, the body recognizes the organ as its own.
By using donor-derived cells combined with organ transplantation, we can effectively “transplant” the seeds of a healthy immune system into a recipient.
Immune transplantation will help reduce or eliminate the typical immune response that leads to organ rejection.
Dendritic cells for living-donor liver transplant
Living-donor liver transplant is a life-saving alternative to the transplant waiting list.
During a living-donor liver transplant, a person with end-stage liver disease receives part of a new liver from a living donor. The liver regenerates, or grows back, in both the donor and the recipient.
Recipients tend to have better outcomes and faster recovery times because the donor’s healthy liver is functioning until the time of transplant.
But, because the body sees the new liver as a foreign object, recipients must take anti-rejection drugs after the transplant.
Using immune transplant, our experts are exploring the possibility of using the living donor’s cells to control the recipient’s immune response.
Before the living-donor liver transplant, we will generate regulatory dendritic cells — cells that can control the immune system’s response to the donor,— from the donor’s blood monocytes. Then we’ll transplant the cells into the recipient.
One week later, the recipient receives part of the donor’s liver. His or her body will recognize the liver as its own since it has already been exposed to the donor’s cells and instructed not to respond.
Lung transplant with bone marrow transplant
At UPMC, we are exploring immune transplantation for people with primary immunodeficiency and end-stage lung disease.
People with immunodeficiencies are more likely to have severe complications and infections after a transplant. As a result, we’re once again looking at ways to use a donor’s cells to control the recipient’s immune response.
At least six weeks after a lung transplant, recipients will also receive a bone marrow transplant from the same donor. The bone marrow will provide stem cells that should help the body recognize the new organ to prevent rejection.