Radical new treatment could end transplant crisis by stopping bodies rejecting new organs


Last updated at 23:41 24 November 2007


A radical treatment that "rinses" organs and then implants them with patients' DNA is being hailed as a solution to the transplant crisis.

Currently, more than 7,500 Britons are on the transplant waiting list. One dies each day because of the lack of suitable donors.

Unless a donor's tissue type is a close match, the recipient's body will reject the new organ. But trials in the US using pigs and rats suggest that this does not happen if the donor organ's genetic material is "washed away" and replaced with a patient's stem cells.

The recipient's immune system then recognises the treated organ's cells as its own.

British researchers say the breakthrough is ingenious. Professor Dame Julia Polak, a tissue engineering expert at Imperial College, London, said: "The principle is very sound. I am hopeful the technique could work on humans."

The process involves washing a donated organ with salt water to remove any blood and rinsing it with up to ten gallons of a special detergent. Tens of thousands of the recipient's stem cells are then grafted on to what is left of the organ and these grow into living tissue.

After a few days, the modified organ is ready to be transplanted into the patient's body.

operation surgery

Professor Doris Taylor, of the University of Minnesota, who is leading the research, said: "Our aim is to prevent thousands of deaths every year among patients who have no suitable donor. We've been working on this for two years and are very excited about the progress so far."

Another benefit for patients is that the new technique, reported at an American Heart Association's meeting earlier this month, would end the need for transplant patients to take a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives.

It also means organs could potentially be stockpiled for weeks after being removed from their donors.

The US scientists warn that there is still a long way to go, but they are very hopeful that ultimately they will find the answer to the donor crisis.

Earlier this year, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, called for a system in which everyone became a potential donor unless they specifically opted out, but this idea was widely rejected.

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