After a presentation by UC researchers at the American Transplant Congress (ATC) this spring, transplant specialists across the country are now partnering with UC to form a research study group that hopes to make organ transplantation available to all patients.
The group will focus on work started by Steve Woodle, MD, director of UC’s division of transplantation. Working with the cancer drug bortezomib, Woodle and his team discovered a new therapy for rejection episodes in transplant patients.
The drug is typically used to treat multiple myeloma, or cancer of the plasma cells, but Woodle’s team found it is effective in treating rejection episodes caused by antibodies that attack transplanted kidneys. Unlike past therapies, it does so by specifically targeting the plasma cells that are responsible for creating the antibodies.
“We started the collaborative group because we kept getting numerous calls asking us to help treat patients with a bortezomib regimen,” he says.
The group comprises of the following centers: the universities of British Columbia, Miami, Michi-gan, Illinois at Chicago and Pittsburgh; Harvard University; Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, Ark.; Mater Misericor-diae Hospital in Dublin, Ireland; Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif.; and Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
In addition, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) will study how bortezomib could impact antibodies that are protective against other diseases, like influenza.
“I would say this is probably the most significant development in kidney transplantation in the last five years,” says Martin Zand, URMC director of transplant nephrology.
Zand says the antibody-mediated rejection is one of the major problems in kidney transplantation. He estimates 20 percent of patients currently on kidney transplant waiting lists produce antibodies that could target transplanted organs.
With a multicenter collaborative group, Zand says researchers can start determining which patients would be best helped by the new treatment right away.
Woodle says the group will work by sharing the most up-to-date clinical protocols and data.
“Since each center sees a very small number of patients each year with rejection episodes, sharing experiences helps us to learn new uses of FDA-approved drugs and to gain experience with new therapies,” he says.