Drug could put an end to transplant rejection

21 November 2017        

Category: Research

A diabetes drug currently undergoing development could be repurposed to help end transplant rejection, without the side-effects of current immunosuppressive drugs, according to new research that we've funded.

Human organ freezer box

In the study published in Immunity researchers found that the enzyme glucokinase increases the movement of a type of white blood cell, called a regulatory T cell, into human organs. Once inside the organ tissue these regulatory T cells act as guardians of the immune system, preventing it from rejecting a transplanted organ. 

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) found that when regulatory T cells were treated with a drug known to increase the workrate of the glucokinase enzyme they moved into the organ tissue of mice in much greater numbers.

Preventing organ rejection

The team then studied blood samples from a group of people who have a genetic mutation making their version of the glucokinase enzyme more active. They found that in these people, the regulatory T cells move into the organs more readily.

These results suggest that a drug currently being developed to treat people with type 2 diabetes, which increases the activity of the glucokinase enzyme, could now also be used to prevent organ rejection after a transplant. 

Life-changing organ transplants

From April 2016 to March 2017 4,753 people in the UK received life-changing organ transplants.

Currently, drugs used to prevent organ rejection have a number of side effects, including leaving patients at greater risk of infections and also cancer, because they are unable to specifically target the area of the immune system responsible for organ rejection.

Devastating consequences

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said:

“Heart transplantation has come a long way since the first heart transplant nearly fifty years ago. However, when our immune system rejects the donated heart this can have devastating consequences.

“With this research we are one step closer to reducing the number of people suffering from organ rejection, and to prevent people from re-joining a growing transplant waiting list.

"Ultimately, our hope is that people who have undergone this procedure will live longer, healthier lives with a healthy donor heart.”

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