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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
General Health Channel
Reported November 9, 2012

Transplantation Without Medication?

CHICAGO, IL (Ivanhoe Broadcast)—Lindsay Porter’s protruding belly wasn’t due to pregnancy; her kidneys had swelled to eight pounds a piece. She had polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and needed a transplant. She wasn't scared of the surgery, but something did frighten her.

"It was really the medications."

The anti-rejection drugs she would have to take for the rest of her life and the other medications to help with the possible side effects of those drugs. Lori Felber knows all about that.

Nine pills a day, 3,285 pills a year: That’s what she’s had to take since her kidney transplant in 2008. She's grateful her husband was able to save her life by donating his kidney, but doesn’t want to take expensive drugs all the time.

Today, that's Lindsay’s reality. She took part in a pioneering study at Northwestern University. It involved 18 kidney transplants -- where the unmatched, unrelated donors gave more than kidneys to the recipients. They gave their stem cells.

"The results have been remarkable," study lead Dr. Joseph Leventhal, an Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at Northwestern University, told Ivanhoe.

He says the idea is to create chimerism or two immune systems in the recipient.

"Right, so you have peaceful co-existence, if you will, of the donor's stem cells with the other aspects of the recipient's immune system."

To make that happen, Lindsay had chemotherapy and radiation before the transplant to weaken her own immune system. The day after her transplant, engineered stem cells from her donor were infused into Lindsay’s body. Days later, she had one more chemo session.

"I was on the medications for about six months before they started weaning me off of it," Lindsay explained.

Unlike Lori -- who faces a lifetime of medications and potential side effects -- Lindsay was off all the drugs after just one year. Dr. Leventhal says most recipients who went through the procedure had similar results. While there was a risk of the injected stem cells reacting against their bodies, none experienced that.

"It may reshape the landscape of how we do transplant over the next decade," Dr. Leventhal said.

With a healthy kidney and no more anti-rejection drugs to take, Lindsay’s free to spend her time with her son.

"I'm so glad that I've had the last two years to really be with him 100 percent."

Lindsay tells us the procedure cured her of her high blood pressure, and her blood type changed to the blood type of her donor. The transplant study she was involved in is ongoing. A second trial is also being planned. It will offer a similar treatment to people, like Lori, who've already undergone a living donor kidney transplant.

For additional research on this article, click here.

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Colleen Sheehan
Senior Associate, Media Relations
(312) 695-0828

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