Study lets transplant patients skip anti-rejection drugs
October 6th, 2011
01:58 PM ET

Study lets transplant patients skip anti-rejection drugs

A Stanford University Medical School team reports it has successfully performed kidney transplants that don't require patients to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives.  The transplant method, 30 years in the making, was developed by Stanford immunologist Dr. Samuel Strober.

An estimated 83,000 U.S. patients are on the waiting list for kidney transplants, and the number increases each month, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Typically organ recipients are required to take a daily regimen of anti-rejection drugs –which can number 30 pills per day – for a lifetime. Not only are the drugs expensive, they can have harmful side effects that include greater risk for heart disease, infection, cancer and diabetes.  The new transplant method temporarily weakens the recipient's immune system, casting "a blind eye on the foreign tissue of the graft," until the body returns to its normal state of immunity, according to Strober.

While the benefits of immune-suppressing drugs outweigh the risks, researchers have long sought the “holy grail” of organ transplants without immune-suppressant medications to prevent rejection of the new organ.

In a follow-up to their brief report published in 2008, citing a single patient who showed success with the new transplant method, the Stanford researchers report, in a correspondence in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, that they’ve achieved success in eight of 12 kidney recipients, making them tolerant of their new organs without requiring prolonged use of anti-rejection drugs.

All 12 of the recipients in this study received organs from close relatives who were immunologically matched to them – reducing some of, but not all, of the risk of organ rejection. After receiving the donated organ, the recipient’s immune system was made less combative toward the new organ by using targeted irradiation to weaken the lymph nodes, spleen and thymus and giving the patient rabbit antithymocyte globulin (an anti-rejection drug) during the first 10 days after the transplant, to keep the recipient’s body friendly toward the new organ, according to the researchers. Eleven days after the transplant the recipient was infused with stem cells from the donor’s blood, which were able to combine with the recipient’s friendly environment, continuing to fight rejection, they wrote. While the patients continued to receive anti-rejection medications on a temporary basis, most of them were successfully weaned off of the drugs between six and 17 months after transplantation, as long as they showed no signs of rejecting the organ.

It’s important to note that the patients in this portion of the study were perfectly matched with their donors, as far as immunological markers are concerned. The researchers continue to follow the patients, but the majority have been able to stop taking anti-rejection drugs, and their bodies show no signs of rejection. The researchers write that they are now using the transplant method with less perfectly matched patients.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. David J Undis

    Your story about Anti-Rejection Drugs for Kidney Transplants highlighted the tragic shortage of human organs for transplant operations.

    There are now over 112,000 people on the National Transplant Waiting List, with over 50% of these people dying before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

    There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage – give donated organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

    Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. Everyone who is willing to receive should be willing to give.

    Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at http://www.lifesharers.org or by calling
    1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 14,700 members as of this writing.

    Please contact me – Dave Undis, Executive Director of LifeSharers – if your viewers would like to learn more about our innovative approach to increasing the number of organ donors. I can arrange interviews with some of our local members if you're interested. My email address is daveundis@lifesharers.org. My phone number is 615-351-8622.

    October 7, 2011 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Camille Platt

    My son, Jonathan, had a kidney transplant in 2008, and has been on anti-rejection medications since. We are greatful for his second chance at life, however, didn't realize the extent of cost of such expensive medications. There is one that cost $1200 a month, leaving very little residuals for anything else, and costing he and his family to be forced out of their apartment and to move in with relatives. This is just wrong in every way shape and form.

    Question: My son is 29 years of age, both he and his donor are "0" positive blood types. As his mother, I too, am "0" positive, would this new method of weaning recipients of their anti-rejections medications help someone like my son, if I donate my stem cells on his behalf? Please contact me ASAP, 281-459-4517 or 562-453-7660.

    December 21, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David Davenport

      Camille, Congrats on the transplant. I hope your son is healthy today. My son too received a kidney transplant – from me. He is healthy today and taking his medications as required, Did you get a response? My son is 25 and currently covered on my insurance through employer but will lose it at 26 and may find it difficult to get insurance. Thank you for any response.

      July 13, 2013 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
  3. Paul

    As great as this sounds, my instant reaction is "Drug companies will never allow this to happen, because they make too much money" – I'm a kidney transplant recipient myself, Oct 2005, and am on Cellcept and Prograf. I had to get an 'emergency' dose 1 time and saw the actual price of these drugs. 1 was $750 and the other was over $1,200...and that's a 1 month supply, that has to be refilled every single month.

    As nice as it would be to not have to take these meds daily (25 pills/day for me), I just can't imagine the pharmaceutical companies giving up this kind of profit margin...Maybe they deserve it, for keeping us alive, but still, I just don't see it happening...

    March 18, 2013 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John Beverly

      Im a new transplant reciepiant and terrified. The drugs have already been draining us and its only a month into it. What was the rest of your story?

      May 8, 2014 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
  4. carlos

    I had a liver transplant over 10 years ago and tapered from tacrolimus about 5 years ago with no ill effects. The liver regenerates itself over time while the kidney does not, so this is important news

    July 14, 2013 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. UBTH Hospital

    We currently have a kidney donor who is willing to donate kidney, if you are interested kindly contact ubthmedicalcentre@yahoo.com for more inquiries

    July 23, 2014 at 05:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Cathy Mileham

    Hi there my son had a transplant 11 years ago. I donated my kidney. His kidney has now failed and he is on dialysis. he has been diagnosed with Humoral rejection and was told that he cannot recieve a transplant. Is this true or is there a treatment for this? He has had plasma exchange and Ritiximub but it never worked.

    September 30, 2016 at 05:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Name*darlene

    Yes my husband went 19 years no anti rejection medication after his kidney transplant

    February 24, 2017 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Theo Sotiroglou

    I had a Liver Transplant in June of 2016 I am (54) I want to stop taking Prograf the side effects are really bad ranging from diabetes to neuropathy in my feet, shaking etc. I changed to a whole food plant based diet lifestyle so I've stopped taking prograf and insulin. No meds at this time I feel great. My blood work will be taken again in 14 days just to make sure I am OK. I will adjust if I need to but prograf stinks.

    August 21, 2017 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Ken

    Four years post transplant (kidney), I stopped taking immunosuppressants. No weaning, no medical intervention, no bone marrow transplants. My living donor was not a relative and we shared a 1/6 MLA match.

    I had several complications with medications and a series of unplanned events led to the decision to stop.

    I’ e just had my 8 year anniversary of my transplant. At the time I stopped taking immunosuppressants my creatinine was around 2.0. At last check about a year ago it was 1.2.

    I have taken these steps without officially informing any doctor. Not do I have any reason to do so given the medical community’s extraordinary power to deny my an opportunity for a future transplant.

    I believe I should be the subject of a study as to why I do not need these meds. Likely many more people like me have been taking otherwise harmful medications to prevent an organ rejection which they would never experience regardless of their decision to forego the lifelong post transplant immobosuppression regimen, which is killing them. And like me, many could experience improved health and organ function as a result..

    December 9, 2017 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Prg

    My relative received a donated organ from a family member 6yrs ago. We were never told of this study. And I have never heard of it before. Why is it not currently in use by now? I blame big Pharma as they would lose billions if all or even half of the organ recipients in US were not taking their plethora of medications daily. Those who cannot find a match of course would have to continue taking the medications and in those cases they do save lives. But they also come with many difficult side effects some of which can become a life-threatening. A third-party Watchdog group needs to be established when situations arise in which big Pharma is exerting more control than they are legally allowed to over which studies and methods are approved by the FDA and put into use in hospitals Nationwide.

    September 5, 2019 at 03:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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