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New cell-replicating method boosts transplant odds

University of Minnesota Medical School and Masonic Cancer Center researchers have discovered a method to quickly and exponentially grow regulatory T-cells, dramatically increasing the chances for successful bone marrow and organ transplants.

The new technique, developed by Bruce Blazar, M.D., director of the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and an immunology team, also will have profound implications for patients with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

It enables replication of the cells by up to 50 million-fold; previously a 70-fold expansion was considered a good result.

Already the approach has shown promise in treating acute graft-versus-host disease, says Blazar, the study’s senior author. In that common post-transplant condition, T-cells from the donor’s bone marrow recognize a recipient’s body as foreign and try to attack.

The next step will be phase 1 human clinical testing headed by the University’s John Wagner, M.D., a world leader in blood and marrow transplantation.

“This is truly exciting and a major, major breakthrough with profound implications in the treatment of our patients,” Wagner says. “[We] hope to move these trials ahead quickly to treat autoimmune diseases, which affect hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.”

The findings were published in the May 18 edition of Science: Translational Medicine.

Assistant professor Keli Hippen, Ph.D., was the lead investigator of the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

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