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UNC study hints at new approaches to prevent transplant rejection
Date:2/11/2009

CHAPEL HILL To prevent the rejection of newly transplanted organs and cells, patients must take medicines that weaken their entire immune systems. Such potentially life-saving treatments can, paradoxically, leave those receiving them susceptible to life-threatening infections.

Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered what seems to trigger the immune system to attack transplanted cells in the first place.

The finding could help chart a course to completely new therapies that may prevent graft-versus-host disease the main cause of transplant failure and its sometimes fatal complications.

The UNC study has identified a subset of cells named TH17 cells that can bring about the condition. Until now, without a clear understanding of the disease, clinicians have had little choice but to treat transplant patients with toxic regimens of steroids and immunosuppressive drugs.

"Our hope is that uncovering the mechanisms that cause graft-versus-host disease will allow for treatments that specifically target its causes and do not have the harmful side effects of traditional immunosuppressive therapy," said study lead author Jonathan S. Serody, M.D., a member of the Lineberger Center and the Elizabeth Thomas Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at UNC. The results of the study appeared in the Feb. 5, 2009, issue of Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology.

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a serious complication of transplants that occurs when the donor's marrow (graft) produces immune cells that attack multiple organs of the recipient (host), typically the skin, gastrointestinal tract and liver.

Until recently, scientists believed that most of the disease's problems came from the production of specific molecules called interferons, a class of proteins that arise in
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Contact: Dianne Shaw
dgs@med.unc.edu
919-966-7834
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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