Transplant breakthrough leading to cures

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Research from the University of Louisville is getting top honors this week at the American Transplant Conference in Boston. Using a transplant protocol pioneered by Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, kidney transplant patients are living life without harmful anti-rejection medications.

"It's wonderful, I feel better than I've felt for years. I really feel like I've gotten some kind of fountain of youth" said Rob Waddell.  

He's among the first in the country to receive an unmatched kidney using the breakthrough protocol.

"We discovered a cell in the bone marrow that's a good cell" Dr. Ildstad said, "we call the facilitating cell, that helps bone marrow to take and helps to eliminate the need for a perfect match."

And within a year of transplant these patients are also eliminating the anti-rejection drugs. They simply don't need them because the body has been tricked into thinking the foreign kidney is actually its own.

"One of our reviewers said it was probably the most important discovery in the tolerance area in the past century" said Ildstad. Just published in a top 'Science' journal this spring, her discovery of that facilitating cell is believed to be the key to allowing the donor bone marrow to take.

"It's been known over 50 years if the bone marrow for a donor takes, then a transplanted kidney would be permanently accepted" said Ildstad.  

Now this protocol is allowing doctors to transplant bone marrow too in a safe manner. There's a conditioning that takes place about a month before transplant. Once the bone marrow is retrieved it's processed in Ildstad's labs then sent to Duke researchers in Chicago where the transplant actually takes place.

During this time, the patient receives radiation to suppress the immune system and give the donor stem cells more place to grow.

"It opens the door for allowing almost anyone who needs a transplant to have one because we don't have to have a perfect match," said Dr. Ildstad.

For Waddell and other patients living medication free, "it's been a new lease on life for me."

Dr. Ildstad is currently coordinating with Miami to start islet cell transplants in children with Type 1 Diabetes. Already, children living with Sickle Cell are being cured using this protocol of transplant.

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