Fall 2019

Transplants without antirejection drugs?

A U-led research team shows that transplant success is possible without the need for long-term immunosuppressants

Bernhard Hering, M.D.

For many people facing end-stage organ failure, transplantation is the only effective treatment option. To prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted organ or cells, though, recipients must take medications that suppress their immune systems, typically for life—opening the door to a host of side effects, such as serious infections and even cancer.

But today a research team led by Bernhard Hering, M.D., of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Surgery and Schulze Diabetes Institute, has achieved long-term survival of pancreatic islet transplant recipients without long-term immunosuppression. 

In this preclinical study of nonhuman primates, antirejection drugs were discontinued 21 days after the transplant. The technique capitalizes on the unique attributes of modified donor white blood cells, which were infused into transplant recipients one week before and one day after the transplant.

Essentially, Hering says, the team is mimicking nature’s formula for the way the body tolerates its own tissues and organs. The group believes this method could be applied to all types of transplants—whole organs, cells, and other tissues.

“We’re very hopeful that our findings can be confirmed for the benefit of patients in planned clinical trials in pancreatic islet and living-donor kidney transplantation,” says Hering, who holds the Jeffrey Dobbs and David E. R. Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D., Chair in Diabetes Research and whose research has long been supported by philanthropy. “It would open an entirely new era in transplantation medicine.”