Growing organs for transplants

March 28, 2012 2:59:12 PM PDT
Organ transplants have progressed rapidly in recent years, but organ recipients still need medication to suppress the immune system.

One exception is a transplant between identical twins and that's presenting researchers with an exciting goal.

It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it's happening right in our lifetime, and you will be hearing more and more about it.

The solution to finding a organ like one that might come from an identical twin is to grow one, and that field is called regenerative medicine.

It was just about a year ago that Ernesto Boleaga learned his symptoms - fatigue, anemia and swollen feet were caused by severe kidney failure. He would need a transplant. His twin brother's response was immediate.

"I have two kidneys. I said, 'If I can give you one of my two kidneys, please take it,'" Jose Luis Boleaga said.

Because they're identical twins, the brothers have the same genetic makeup, so Ernesto's body accepts his brother's kidney as its own.

Ernesto's immune system won't reject it as it would one from an unrelated donor.

For most people, drugs that suppress the immune system help stop the rejection process. But they cause side effects, and over time, the body's immune system "wins" and damages the new kidney.

"I think the challenge today is how do you make that organ last for a lifetime?"Mikel Prieto, M.D., Mayo Clinic transplant surgeon, said.

The answer may be in regenerative medicine that is, reproducing an organ that is essentially genetically identical to the patient getting it.

Right now, researchers in the lab are able to turn stem cells into other cells such as kidney cells. The hope is that one day they will be able to grow those cells into life saving organs for people like Ernesto.

"We hope that sometime in the future we will be able to reproduce an organ that is essentially genetically identical to the patient getting it. When we achieve that, then basically every transplant will be like doing a transplant between identical twins," Prieto said.

At any given time there are up to 86-thousand people worldwide waiting for donor organ. Until researchers can make regenerative medicine reality, you can make a difference by being an organ donor.

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