July 2010

Gene Pattern Spells Freedom from Medications

Most patients who’ve received a kidney transplant have to take special drugs—called immunosuppressants—for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, their body’s own immune system will attack and destroy the transplanted organ.

In rare cases, a transplant survives even after the patient stops taking medications. NIH-funded scientists have now analyzed gene activity in immune cells from these unusual patients and discovered a distinctive pattern. The finding may help identify other transplant recipients who could safely reduce or end their use of harsh drugs that block rejection.

Two independent research teams studied over 35 patients whose kidney transplants survived without immunosuppressants. Both teams identified an activity pattern in 3 genes that was far more common in these patients than in transplant recipients who still took the drugs.

Larger studies will be needed to see if the pattern can reliably identify patients who could be safely weaned off their drugs. The researchers stress that transplant patients should never consider reducing or changing their medication regimen unless under the direct supervision of a physician.