Unfortunately, six other patients who received the same treatment have not been able to give up their immunosuppressive drugs. Their kidneys were not as well-matched, however.
A third study, from Australian researchers, involved a 9-year-old girl who had received an HLA-mismatched liver from a deceased male donor and who was also able to come off immunosuppressive medications.
Essentially her body did naturally what the other two studies had to induce, Smythe said. She developed a viral infection, which dropped the number of her own white blood cell counts and allowed donor white blood cells that were in her body to take over. Being a child also helped. "My guess is that this was a large graft in a small person," Smythe said.
These advances may one day indirectly alleviate the biggest problem facing the transplant field: a shortage of donors.
"We hope this will be even more important when applied to xenografts [grafting tissue from one species, such as a pig, to another, such as a human], which will increase donors," Sachs said. "We think the pig is going to be the answer to that. We have been breeding special pigs for that purpose."
Learn more about organ transplantation at the United Network for Organ Sharing.
SOURCES: David H. Sachs, M.D., director, Transplantation Biology Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Samuel Strober, M.D., professor, medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif.; Roy Smythe, M.D., chairman, department of surgery, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Medicine, and Scott &White, Temple, Texas; Jan. 24, 2008, New England Journal of Medicine
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