Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

A Genetic Rx for Rejection

Biotechnology: Gene screens determine transplant treatment

Organ transplant patients face a catch-22. The powerful drugs that suppress their immune systems and protect their new organs from rejection can cause life-threatening side effects, including high blood pressure, susceptibility to infection and even cancer. Now researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have found a link between a patient’s genes and the chances of rejection that could free many patients from lifelong dependence on immunosuppressant drugs.

Physicians have long known that certain people are more prone to deadly rejection episodes than others, regardless of how well a donor organ is “matched” to their bodies. Studying children who received new hearts, a team led by immunologist Adriana Zeevi has now shown that immune molecules called cytokines are a likely culprit. Cytokines kick the immune system into high gear, revving it up to eliminate foreign invaders -helpful if the intruder is a virus, bad if it’s a desperately needed kidney or liver. Zeevi showed that patients whose bodies produce more of a cytokine called TNF-alpha, but less of the cytokine IL-10, were most likely to reject their new organs.

Zeevi’s team has developed a simple genetic test to determine a patient’s cytokine levels and hopes to forecast which patients can tolerate lower drug doses. “If their findings hold up, then they could say ahead of time, ‘You’re going to have a liver transplant and you have this genetic profile, so I’m going to both give you lower immunosuppression and try to wean you from the drugs altogether,’” says Julia Greenstein, chief scientific officer at BioTransplant, a Charlestown, Mass., company that specializes in transplantation technology.

This story is part of our September/October 2000 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

To prove the theory, every transplant recipient at Pittsburgh Medical Center is now given the test-almost 500 patients a year. And George Mazariegos, a transplant surgeon who is working with Zeevi, says that by year’s end he will begin using the genetic screen to select liver transplant patients who are good candidates for weaning from drug treatment. Initial evidence indicates that as many as 30 percent could qualify. Zeevi and Mazariegos predict that profiling transplant patients’ cytokine genes will become standard medical practice in about five years.

The race is on to define the new blockchain era. Get a leg up at Business of Blockchain 2019.

Register now
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print + All Access Digital.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.