More than 550,000 people are living with heart failure but there is no cure. When the heart becomes irreversibly damaged following a heart attack and fails, heart transplantation may be the only option.
Sometimes the body’s immune defences, which usually act to fight off infections, start attacking and destroying the transplanted heart. This is called ‘rejection’. To limit rejection, after a heart transplant, a person is given medication to lessen their immune response, called ‘immunosuppressive’ drugs. Apart from increasing the risk of infection, immunosuppressive drugs have a number of side effects, from making people irritable to kidney damage.
While some immune cells cause this rejection, other immune cells may keep transplanted hearts healthy.
We are funding Dr Nicholas Jones and his team to identify how to activate cells called NKT cells which suppress the immune system and prevent rejection.
This research could help heart transplants work longer without the debilitating side effects of immunosuppressive drugs.
With this knowledge the scientists believe that they will reveal new ways of preventing heart transplant rejection.
Cells called Tregs work to stop our body’s immune system from reacting against our own tissues.
One possible way to prevent the body rejecting donor organs is to use Tregs as therapies after a transplant.
We are funding Professor Giovanna Lombardi and researchers at King’s College London to develop a new method for working with Tregs in the lab. They aim to tailor these cells to recognise specific molecules on the surface of the transplanted heart so that the organ is not rejected.
This research will provide greater insight into the mechanisms of donor heart rejection and how Tregs could help. Ultimately, Treg therapy may help transplant recipients live longer with a better quality of life.
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