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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
Radiation 'reduces transplant risks'
Stopping rejection is vital to successful tranpslants
Doctors have developed a technique to stop the body from rejecting key organs after transplant surgery.

Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh, in the US, have used radiation to reduce the risks of organ rejection among patients who have their intestines replaced.

Intestinal transplants are particularly difficult and have one of the highest rejection rates.

This is because the intestines are laden with immune system cells from the donor and these are particularly vulnerable to attack from the recipient's immune system.

But the technique developed by the US doctors has so far reported a 100% success rate among patients enrolled in the study.

Five patients underwent this latest treatment. This involves exposing the donor organ to radiation before it is transplanted and then exposing it to radiation again immediately prior to the operation. At the same the patient is given donor bone marrow.

According to the doctors, this technique can stave off immune system attack during the crucial first few months after the transplantation.

None of the five patients who participated in the study had reported any symptoms of rejection during the first four months.

Dr Kareem Abu-Elmagd, associate professor of surgery and director of intestinal transplantation at the University of Pittsburgh, said more work needs to be done to determine whether the technique is completely effective.

But he added: "Nonetheless, such findings are significant because, despite improvements in survival rates for intestinal transplants, frequent and difficult to treat rejections have continued to defy surgeons."

Despite improvements in survival rates for intestinal transplants, frequent and difficult to treat rejections have continued to defy surgeons

Dr Kareem Abu-Elmagd, University of Pittsburgh

He said intestinal transplants have only become clinically feasible within the past decade, due to the development of strong anti-rejection drugs.

But he said these drugs are not 100% effective and many patients continued to reject the organs.

Dr Abu-Elmagd said that research carried out at the university had indicated that about 84% of patients undergoing intestinal transplants experience at least one episode of rejection.

Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have carried out the operation on 143 patients since 1990.

These include bowel and liver transplants and the majority of patients needed the operation because of short-gut syndrome, a condition where people lose 70% of their intestine due to trauma, surgery or disease.

Almost three out of four patients had survived the operation after one year and 52% have still been alive five years later.

The results of the Pittsburgh study were presented to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society on Monday.

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