Scientists from the University of Edinburgh are using immune cells harvested from blood donors to help fight an unusual cancer which can affect transplant patients. And their findings, published recently in The Lancet show that the therapy has proved effective in a number of cases. The treatment proved successful last year in saving the life of a four-year-old boy from Birmingham, who developed the cancer— post-transplant lympho-proliferative disease— following a liver and bowel transplant.
The technique, which involves boosting the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer without affecting the transplanted organ, can also be adapted to treat other virus infections, or AIDS patients who have developed lymphomas.
Clinical research scientist Dr Tanzina Haque explained: “The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a common virus best known for causing glandular fever, and is carried by about 90% of the population, without a problem. When a patient receives an organ transplant, he or she is given immuno-suppressive drugs to stop the body rejecting the organ, but this also lowers their immunity to infections by removing the body’s ’killer’ cells, the cytotoxic T-lymphocytes. If a transplant patient’s immunity is compromised, EBV can infect cells called B-lymphocytes, causing them to grow in an uncontrolled way and become malignant. The resulting cancer can be fatal in up to 70% of cases.”
Linda Menzies | alfa
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