Organ donor stem cells helped five patients with kidney transplants wean themselves off organ rejection drugs within a year of their operation, BBC News reports.
Scientists at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago generated the discovery, and the journal Science Translational Medicine highlights the details.
It is true, as the BBC points out, that doctors have tested stem cells from organ donors before in transplants, with some promise. But this is the first time they've been used from donors who are not related to the recipients or have similar immunological systems, and it points to potentially using stem cells to modify a patient's immune system so it doesn't attack donated organs.
That means this finding has a potentially enormous impact. Patients who undergo transplants survive on anti-rejection medication that suppresses the immune system. They're expensive, and a patient, once recovered, remains vulnerable as a result of the medication to infection, and health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes, the BBC notes. And there is still a risk of organ rejection. But before we get really excited here, many more patients must be tested. We'll be more excited when dozens, and even hundreds of patients end up with the same result.
Eight patients took part in the study, undergoing a kidney transplant from a live donor, from whom doctors also harvested blood stem cells. The recipients all were treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy to suppress their immune systems, underwent the transplant and then were treated with the organ donor's stem cells a few days after the surgery. As the BBC reports, patients started with typical anti-rejection drugs, but 5 of the 8 managed to stop using them gradually within 12 months.
Stem cells are showing some great versatility in preclinical and early-stage clinical research, as a treatment for liver damage, heart attacks and also a potential fertility drug, among other indications.