UPMC is a world-renowned leader in organ transplantation, welcoming patients from around the world. Dr. Thomas E. Starzl’s leadership brought two vital elements to UPMC: expertise in liver transplant and new anti-rejection drugs that made organ transplant an accepted treatment for many diseases that were considered incurable.
Today, UPMC is focusing on the future of this evolving field – immune transplant in conjunction with organ transplant.
“In a short period of time, transplantation has gone from being an experimental procedure to being the standard of care for patients with end-stage organ disease. For many patients, it is now the main treatment method and, in some cases, it is the only method,” says Abhinav Humar, MD, chief of transplantation at UPMC.
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Anti-Rejection Medicines for Transplantation
Despite the benefits of transplantation, patients continue to face life-threatening challenges after transplant surgery due to the ongoing need for anti-rejection medicines. These medicines work by essentially suppressing the immune system to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ.
The immune system is designed to protect the body from disease. While the medicines have been successful in helping prevent organ rejection, the patient is at a higher risk of developing infections, kidney failure, and certain types of cancer.
“The immune system that helps us fight infections also helps us fight certain types of tumors. When patients must take medicine that suppresses the immune system for the rest of their lives, it’s going to have a downside to it,” says Dr. Humar. “Specifically, the downside for transplant patients is that having to take these medicines for a long period of time puts them at higher risk of developing infections and certain types of tumors.”
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Immune Transplant in Conjunction with Organ Transplant
To help solve this issue, experts at the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center are exploring the use the donor’s cells to control the recipient’s immune response.
Prior to a living-donor liver transplant, dendritic cells — cells that control the response of the immune system — are removed from the donor and transplanted into the recipient. When the recipient receives a portion of the donor’s liver, the body will recognize the organ as its own because it has already been exposed to the donor’s cells.
By using donor-derived cells in combination with an organ transplant, UPMC is effectively “transplanting” the seeds of a healthy immune system into a transplant recipient, with the goal of to reducing or even eliminating the typical immune response that leads to organ rejection.
“The field of transplantation will be changed. We are striving for better and better results. We want our patients to live longer and healthier,” says Dr. Humar.
Learn More About Immune Transplant
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. To learn more about the UPMC Immune Transplant and Therapy Center and UPMC’s commitment to saving lives through transplantation, visit UPMC.com/ITTC.
About Transplant Services
Established in 1981, UPMC Transplant Services is one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, including liver, kidney, pancreas, single and double lung, heart, and more. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and have a long history of developing new antirejection therapies—so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions.