Thursday, April 10, 2008

Transplant Rejection: A Light At Last?

Throughout the ages, mankind had endeavoured in medical research, striving to discover cures for the many disorders that had plagued our species. One of the most significant advancements in this area is, no doubt, the technique of organ transplantation. Since this procedure became viable, countless lives had been saved from organ failures that will otherwise be fatal. Yet despite the best efforts of researchers, organ transplantation has yet to be perfected.

One of the main problems is rejection: when the patient’s immune system attacks the foreign, transplanted organ. Currently, the only way to combat this complication is through the use of immunosuppressants, drugs designed to suppress the immune system: but use of these drugs has numerous undesirable side effects. Obviously, immunosupressants is not the answer to rejection. For decades researchers had strived to discover an alternative, but had been unsuccessful: until when a teenage girl named Demi-Lee Brennan underwent a remarkable change.

Demi-Lee Brennan was only nine years old when her liver failed. Luckily, she received a transplant in time to save her life: but it seemed to be a life that was fated to be forever dependent on the notorious immunosuppressants. It turned out, however, that was not what life had in store for her. A few years after her transplant, doctors were flabbergasted when Demi-Lee’s body actually conformed to the tissue of the donor liver: her blood type was converted from O-negative to the donor’s O-positive, and stem cells from the donor had entered her bone marrow, effectively a bone marrow transplant; allowing her to continue to produce blood of the donor liver’s type.

What does this all mean, you may ask? Well, all this basically means that Demi-Lee no longer had to rely on immunosuppressants: her body will not reject her liver anymore. How did it happen? What triggered it? Can this unique phenomenon be replicated in other transplant recipients? Researchers don’t know yet, but they’re eager to find out. If Demi-Lee’s miracle could be isolated and reproduced medically, it could mean the near-perfection of organ transplantation technology: and bring us that much closer to the age old vision of defeating all the disorders that inflict themselves upon our bodies.


By Albert Chen, #41806241

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