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Wednesday, October 14, 1998 Published at 23:16 GMT 00:16 UK


Blood donors take on transplant cancer

Up to 10% of organ transplant patients get lymph cancer

Blood donors are to help boost transplant patients' immune systems in a bid to fight a lethal form of cancer.

The Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) says up to 10% of people who have liver, heart or heart and lung transplants get a form of cancer of the lymph glands.

Around 70% of these die.

The cancer, caused by Epstein-Barr virus, is difficult to treat because the patient's immune system is damaged by the drugs they are given to make their body accept the new organ.

The CRC is to begin a study to see whether implanting patients with immune-system boosting T cells from donated blood would help their chances of survival.

Glandular fever

Almost 90% of people carry Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which also causes glandular fever. Most do not get ill because their immune system is strong enough to keep the virus under control.

[ image: Scientists want to see if laboratory success translates into real life]
Scientists want to see if laboratory success translates into real life
EBV causes lymph cells to grow uncontrollably in people whose immune systems are damaged.

The current treatment for transplant patients with EBV is to lower the dosage of immune-suppressing drugs.

But this can lead to a risk that they reject the transplanted organ. Doctors therefore have to balance the risk of rejection against the risk of developing EBV.

Matching cells

The CRC team has been working for the last six months to isolate T cells from blood donated to the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

[ image: Blood donors could help transplant patients survive cancer]
Blood donors could help transplant patients survive cancer
It hopes to use T cells from up to 200 donors. The team thinks this should allow for a match of blood and tissue type for about 95% of transplant patients.

The cells can then be reproduced in laboratory conditions.

Professor Dorothy Crawford of the University of Edinburgh Medical School, who is leading the team, said: "The process works in the lab. We have done tests on transplant patients who do not have a tumour to see if they could survive, but we have never done tests on people with tumours."

The first two years of the study involve implanting cells in patients for whom other treatments have failed.

The scientists want to discover if the treatment works outside the laboratory and what dosage level is needed.

Chance of life

If that is successful, they will spend the next three years comparing T cell treatment with other methods of treatment.

If the T cell implantation is effective, it will be used more widely.

Dr John Toy, head of clinical programmes at the CRC, said: "Medical science has advanced so far that we can now give people a chance of life with a new liver or heart.

"We do not want to see cancer taking away that chance and this new therapy may be the safeguard."

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