Patients who are lucky enough to get a transplant for a failed organ usually face a lifetime on anti-rejection drugs, which are expensive, dangerous and not always effective.
An injection of stem cells given alongside a kidney transplant could remove the need for a lifetime of drugs to suppress the immune system, say scientists.
The pilot study, reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, describes a novel regimen that combined old-fashioned cancer treatments with 21st century cell therapy to induce five patients' immune systems to accept donor kidneys as their own despite significant incompatibility.
Researchers said it could have a "major impact" on transplant science.
One of the key problems associated with organ transplantation is the risk that the body will "recognise" the new organ as a foreign invader and attack it.
To prevent this there are anti-rejection drugs — typically 15 to 20 pills a day — that make patients vulnerable to infection, diabetes, hypertension and cancers: they are so toxic, they often overwhelm transplanted kidneys. They have typically cost as much as $20,000 a year, and remain expensive despite the recent availability of generic versions and have to be taken for life.How it Works
The transplant comes from a live donor, who also underwent a procedure to draw stem cells, the building blocks of their immune system, from the blood.
The transplant recipient's body was prepared using radiotherapy and chemotherapy to suppress their own immune system.
Then the transplant went ahead, with the stem cells put into their body a couple of days later.
The idea is that these will help generate a modified immune system that no longer attacks the organ or its new owner.