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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 00:00 GMT
Drug hope for transplant children
Children fared better on the new drug regimes
Children given transplant operations might need less damaging drug treatments to keep them healthy in future, say experts.

Transplant patients need drugs to suppress their immune systems so that the body does not reject the new organ.

This often includes a powerful steroid, but this, in the case of children, can have harmful long-term effects.

But researchers, writing in The Lancet medical journal, said that a steroid-free drug regime was possible.

Corticosteroids have been part of treatments to suppress the immune system since transplantation started.

However, it can render patients prone to infections - which can prove serious in young transplant patients - as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, which, in the long term, can damage the long-term health of patients.

High doses of corticosteroids in childhood may also hamper growth.

In recent years, alternative immunosuppressive drugs have become available, and doctors from Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridgeshire and Saint-Luc University in Belgium started a trial to test whether they worked as effectively as combinations involving steroids.

Better results

Their trial involved 20 children who had received liver transplants, and who were given a more modern drug combination in the months afterwards.

When their progress was matched against that recorded for children who had received previous transplants, and who had been given steroid regimes, the differences were striking.

Growth in the year after transplantation was better in the non-steroid group. In addition, blood pressure was also better in those children not taking steroids.

Most importantly, the children on the new drug regime were 50% less likely to suffer transplant rejection in the first year after the operation.

Dr Raymond Reding, one of the researchers involved in the project, said: "Our results suggest no harmful effect of steroid avoidance for graft acceptance, but this finding will need to be confirmed after extended follow-up."

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