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Organ, Tissue Transplant Research Center Opens at CC

By Sue Kendall

Close to 100 people gathered recently to celebrate the opening of the new Organ and Tissue Transplant Research Center in the freshly remodeled 11-East patient care unit.

In opening remarks, Dr. Allen Spiegel, director of intramural research for NIDDK, called the new unit "a venue to test the newest, most innovative ways of overcoming transplant rejection for patients with type 1 diabetes and end-stage renal failure, and ultimately other diseases."

Patients on this new unit will receive transplants of either insulin-producing islet cells or kidneys, followed by novel therapies to prevent their immune systems from rejecting the transplants. If the therapies are successful, these patients could be cured of their diabetes or renal disease.

Rejection is a major hazard of organ or tissue transplantation. Powerful drugs are given to suppress the patient's immune response, but side effects can be unpleasant enough to cause patients to stop taking the drugs. This step can mean almost certain organ rejection.

"Very rarely a patient that stops taking antirejection medicine does not reject the transplanted organ," said Dr. David Harlan, head of the new unit. "So we do know that it's possible to achieve a state of peaceful coexistence between the transplanted organ and the recipient's immune system."

Cutting the ribbon to open the new Organ and Tissue Transplant Research Center are (from l) Terri Wakefield, the unit's head nurse, and Cmdr. Allan Kirk and Capt. David Harlan of the U.S. Navy, two researchers heading clinical trials of novel antirejection therapies.

Recent research in rhesus monkeys has led to immunologic strategies using antibodies to block the rejection process and essentially fool the body into thinking that the transplanted tissue is its own.

This research has been spearheaded by Harlan and Dr. Allan Kirk of the Naval Medical Research Center. In partnership with the CC, NIDDK, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the University of Miami's Diabetes Research Institute, Harlan and Kirk plan to test their promising therapy, and others, in patients at the Clinical Center.

"With these new therapies, we are trying to manipulate the immune system so that this peaceful coexistence happens more often," Harlan said.

At the ribbon cutting, Kirk explained the team's vision for the new unit: "The common goal is to cure people with diabetes and renal failure — and every other end-stage organ disease that is amenable to transplantation — and to do so without giving the patient another disease, that is, immunosuppression. I truly believe that we are extraordinarily close to being able to do that."

"This is among the most exciting scientific opportunities I've seen for the Clinical Center in the last 10 years," said Dr. David Henderson, CC deputy director for clinical care. "It's what this building was built for — to translate these wonderful basic science findings [in animals] to humans."

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