As the national transplant waiting list continues to grow, pioneering scientists at UPMC are developing novel approaches to help more patients live longer, fuller lives. In doing so, they are setting new standards of care. In Pittsburgh, where living-donor liver transplants now outpace deceased-donor liver transplants, researchers are developing new immunosuppression techniques to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ.
Living Donor Transplant
Living donor transplants are key to eliminating needless deaths by reducing waiting times for available organs. It’s important for every patient being evaluated for a liver transplant to learn about this option as part of the care journey.
During a living-donor liver transplant, a person with end-stage liver disease receives part of a new liver from a living donor. The liver regenerates, or grows back, in both the donor and the recipient. Living-donor liver transplants are consistently associated with better graft and patient survival rates compared to deceased-donor or transplants.
UPMC is among a small group of high-volume centers nationally to offer living-donor liver transplants to patients with end-stage liver disease. In both 2017 and 2018, the number of living-donor liver transplants performed at UPMC exceeded the number of deceased-donor liver transplants. Through this innovative approach, UPMC can provide a second chance for patients with complex liver diseases who may have died while on the transplant waiting list or who otherwise may not have been candidates for transplantation.
Immune Transplant in Conjunction with Organ Transplant
Although a liver donation from a living donor offers many benefits over one from a deceased donor, the recipient still must take anti-rejection medication following transplantation because the body recognizes the donor liver as a foreign object.
With the goal of changing that dependency, scientists at the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center are exploring the possibility of using the donor’s cells to control the recipient’s immune response. In one such strategy, dendritic cells — cells that control the response of the immune system — are removed from the donor prior to the transplant and given to the recipient just before the living donor liver transplant. The hope is that the organ recipient’s body recognizes the newly transplanted organ as its own because it has already been exposed to the donor’s immune conditioning cells.
By using these donor-derived cells in combination with organ transplantation, UPMC investigators are examining whether seeding a healthy immune system in an organ transplant recipient can reduce or eliminate the typical immune response that leads to organ rejection.
The UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center represents an endeavor that is at the heart of UPMC’s mission to develop and deliver life-changing medicine. “Transplantation has always been on the cutting edge. It’s an exciting field to be a part of and it’s gratifying, from both a patient standpoint and an academic standpoint,” says Abhinav Humar, MD, chief of transplantation at UPMC.
To learn more about the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center and UPMC’s commitment to saving lives through transplantation, visit UPMC.com/ITTC.