Transplanting Life: Transplantation Without Medication?

December 27, 2012

People whose kidneys are failing can wait years to get a transplant. About one in 20 will die during that wait.

For many who do get new ones, there's also a new worry. Now, that could soon be a thing of the past.

Lindsay Porter had PKD -- polycystic kidney disease and needed a transplant. She wasn't scared of the surgery, but something did frighten her.

The anti-rejection drugs she would have to take for the rest of her life and the other medications to help with the possible side effects of those drugs.

Lori Felber knows all about that.

Nine pills a day, 3,285 pills a year. That's what she's had to take since her kidney transplant in 2008.

She's grateful her husband was able to save her life by donating his kidney, but not having to take these expensive drugs.

Lindsay took part in a pioneering study at Northwestern University. It involved 18 kidney transplants -- where the unmatched, unrelated donors gave more than kidneys to the recipients. They gave their stem cells.

Dr. Joseph Leventhal heads up the study. He says the idea is to create chimerism, or two immune systems in the recipient.

"Right, so you have peaceful co-existence, if you will, of the donor's stem cells with the other aspects of the recipient's immune system," said Leventhal.

To make that happen, Lindsay had chemotherapy and radiation before the transplant to weaken her own immune system. The day after her transplant, engineered stem cells from her donor were infused into Lindsay's body. Days later, one more chemo session.

While she started off on the full regimen of anti-rejection drugs...

"I was on the medications for about six months before they started weaning me off of it," said Lindsay.

Unlike Lori -- who faces a lifetime of medications and potential side effects -- Lindsay was off all the drugs after just one year. Dr. Leventhal says most recipients who went through the procedure had similar results.

While there was a risk of the injected stem cells reacting against their bodies, none experienced that.

"It may reshape the landscape of how we do transplant over the next decade," said Leventhal.

With a healthy kidney and no more anti-rejection drugs to take, Lindsay's free to spend her time with her son CJ.

Lindsay tells us the procedure cured her of her high blood pressure, and her blood type changed to the blood type of her donor. The transplant study she was involved in is ongoing.

A second trial is also being planned. It will offer a similar treatment to people, like Lori, who've already undergone a living donor kidney transplant.

For More Information, Contact:

Colleen Sheehan
Senior Associate, Media Relations
(312) 695-0828

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