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Teen Takes On Donor's Immune System 231

Leibel writes "The Australian ABC News is reporting that a 15-year-old Australian liver transplant patient has defied modern medicine by taking on her donor's immune system. Demi-Lee Brennan had a liver transplant. Nine months later, doctors at Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital were amazed to find the teenager's blood group had changed to the donor's blood type. They were even more surprised when they found the girl's immune system had almost totally been replaced by that of the donor, meaning she no longer had to take anti-rejection drugs. 'Dr. Michael Stormon says his team is now trying to identify how the phenomenon happened and whether it can be replicated. "That's probably easier said than done... I think it's a long shot," he said. "I think it's a unique system of events whereby this happened. "We postulate there's a number of different issues - the type of liver failure that she had, some of the drugs that we use early on to suppress the immune system and also that she suffered an infection with a virus called CMV, or cytomegalovirus, which can also suppress the immune system."'"
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Teen Takes On Donor's Immune System

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  • Self-rejection? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:47PM (#22169778)
    So if she takes on her donor's immune system, how does that prevent her from rejecting her own body tissues?
  • IYes, I read TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:51PM (#22169846) Homepage Journal
    ...and the two most interesting words in it were "...stem cells..."
  • by cvd6262 ( 180823 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:51PM (#22169856)
    If CMV was really the cause of this strange, but fortunate, occurence, that's a tough one.

    CMV is no laughing matter. It's one of the opportunistic diseases that immuno-deficit people have to worry about. It can lead to blindness and a slew of other complications.

    The best we can hope for (if CMV is to thank for this effect) is that they can isolate the mechanism and replicate it. You wouldn't want to use CMV in this way.
  • by Phoenix666 ( 184391 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:51PM (#22169862)
    The implications for immunology and organ transplants are amazing, but it goes even further than that. If you can induce stem cells to penetrate a patient's bone marrow, then you open the door to all kinds of innovations.

    Imagine if they could take a sample of your DNA, correct inherited defects, and then re-implant you with stem cells carrying the corrected sequence. It would mean hope for victims of all kinds of diseases like Tay-Sachs or Kreuzfeld-Jacob.

    At the very least, the promise of being able to transfer immunological memory on the marrow level potentially means that all we have to do is find the one person whose immune system wipes out HIV, say, and we can all receive that same immunity.
  • 2 questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stooshie ( 993666 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:52PM (#22169878) Journal

    As someone who has received a renal Tx and who also has a degree in Anat.,Phys.&Biochem. I have 2 questions.

    1. If her immune system has been replaced by her donors, won't her other organs/tissues (her own) be rejected by her new (her donor's) immune system?
    2. They gave her a liver from someone with a different blood type?!? I know other markers as well as blood type are taken into account (and in hepatic Tx urgency is another factor), but I thought a blood type match was the minimum requirement.
  • by djlemma ( 1053860 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @01:53PM (#22169894) be able to transplant a new immune system into a patient with, say, some immune deficiency virus.. and potentially be able to add years to their life. Maybe you wouldn't need to bother with the anti-rejection drugs since the immune system of the patient would already be suppressed by the virus. I know it probably can't work that way, but I imagine that any major breakthroughs in the study of the human immune system will have relevance in AIDS/HIV research.
  • by spamking ( 967666 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:04PM (#22170084)

    If they can reproduce this situation it'll be huge.

    If in fact they do reproduce it, do you think the doctors/researchers will get some sort of Nobel Prize?

  • Re:Self-rejection? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:09PM (#22170188) Homepage Journal
    I'd beg to differ--it's a lot more like a reinstall, because if it was a system restore, she'd have her old liver back. This is more like a patch followed by a virus followed by a manual reinstall of the AV program, which then takes the current contents of the registry as canonical. I guess it only remains to determine what OS this girl's running...
  • by spoonboy42 ( 146048 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:13PM (#22170246)

    This story actually coincides with an interesting story [] that ran on NPR yesterday about several experimental new transplant techniques that might help future transplant patients avoid having to take anti-rejection drugs, as well.

    In particular, the article tells the story of one 28-year-old woman who received a kidney transplant from her mother, who was only a partial match. Prior to the kidney transplant, she also received a partial bone marrow transplant from her mother. The bone marrow transplant essentially caused the patient's immune system to become a "blend" of her own and her mother's, producing T-cells that would attack bacterial and viral antigens just like normal, but leave the transplanted kidney alone.

    The results are pretty impressive. The patient originally had to take anti-rejection drugs after her first kidney transplant at age 13, and they caused a host of miserable side effects. After her more recent transplant, however, she's been off the drugs for five years and even ran 2 marathons last year (how's that for healthy?).

    Unfortunately, the new technique only works for organs that you intentionally plan on transplanting ahead of time, since the bone marrow has to be transplanted first in a separate surgery. That means that organ donors who die and donate hearts, livers, etc. aren't really an option. But for a transplant from a living donor, this is a very promising new technique (some of the researchers even think that it could eventually make transplants from animals possible).

  • by IdeaMan ( 216340 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:16PM (#22170306) Homepage Journal
    I only thought it was weird that messing with the liver did it. I thought they did it all the time with certain types of leukemia with big doses of radiation, by killing off the patients existing immune system and then doing a bone marrow transplant. Maybe I misunderstood and they were using relatives to donate the bone marrow? [] []

  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:19PM (#22170358) Homepage Journal
    In Medical Genetics, we are very aware that the mother can frequently have immunities from all the embryonic stem cells from all her children, as well as her mother's children, and that later children have such stem cells and immunities from all their siblings - including from many of the non-viable pregnancies (not as much the ones that don't survive a few weeks, but stillborn children). Twins - fraternal, as identical have same germ line - share the cells of their siblings. Some twins are reabsorbed into the other twin, as well, resulting in a surviving child with both genetic structures, one predominant but the other continuing to "live" inside the body in survivor cells.

    The great thing about Pluripotent Stem Cells is that we may be able to do similar things by altering your own tissue into an embryonic cell, fixing the genetic deficit, and reinjecting the functional cells into your own body, where they can have a functioning immune system that is totally compatible with your own body and not be rejected.

    Science Rules!
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:23PM (#22170392) Journal
    Actually that might happen.

    There have been anecdotal (yeah I know) accounts of people receiving transplants and then having personality changes - food preferences or even sexual orientation. []

    Whether it's true or not or just self selection bias I don't know. But I won't be surprised if the rest of our organs actually had some influence over what we'd like to put in our stomachs or other "gut feel stuff" ;).

    Plus those stem cells do roam about. After all there's been reports of mothers having cells of their sons in various parts of their bodies - brains etc.

  • by |/rad|/oder ( 202635 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @02:27PM (#22170456)
    Is it normal to transplant livers across blood types? This sounds like a nearly missed case of malpractice.
  • Re:I smell... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bwd234 ( 806660 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @03:55PM (#22171890)
    ...A "House" episode

    No, on House they would have totally misdiagnosed her medical condition, given her an ass transplant, and when that didn't help, checked her for prostate cancer, then Alzheimer's, then gave her some drug that almost kills her, then amputate both legs, then 5 minutes before the show is over, say "hey... maybe it's her liver!".
    Then all is well again and she goes home and doesn't even think to sue the incompetent morons for malpractice.
  • Re:Self-rejection? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by barakn ( 641218 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @04:46PM (#22172758)
    What everyone seems to be missing and what is so cool about this case is that it was [b]stem cells[/b] that migrated to the bone marrow. These stem cells were in an untrained state. Once they differentiated into B cells, T cells, macrophages, etc., they went through the same training process that happened to you as an infant, where any self-reactive cells are programmed to self destruct. It really was a full reboot.
  • Re:Self-rejection? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ubergrendle ( 531719 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @05:11PM (#22173156) Journal
    So complete immune system replacement?

    As a person with minimal medical knowledge, does this perhaps open a door to a future possible therapy for other immune system affecting/avoiding diseases? e.g. HIV
  • by Coraon ( 1080675 ) on Thursday January 24, 2008 @07:15PM (#22174934)
    is this like a update or a reformat? because if its like a reformat that this might be the cure for aids...think about it...HIV wipes out your immune system right? well if you let it then hit your body with a new immune system then it might fail and the person might be cured...I'm just a tech but in the computer world if a virus wipes out your securty software you install a new piece from a protected source and kill the virus...

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