In 1954, surgeons were able to successfully do the first human organ transplant. After that, surgeons are faced with a problem involving this operation. This problem is where can they get more organs? Since then, medical researchers have found a way how to do transplant on the eyes, hearts, and even the entire face. But years after that, it’s really hard for them to keep up with the demand of such parts. Just like in the U.S., thousands of people die from waiting for donors of livers and kidneys. You can see how high the demand for organs are and how it can put a person’s life in the balance.
Whether alive or dead, people don’t want to donate their organs and this is where part of the problem comes from. Aside from that, problems may also arise with the organs that are available. The reason why this happens is because our immune system can be picky when it comes to accepting organs. Organs are usually accepted if it has an immunological match with our immune system. Patients undergoing transplant are required to take debilitating immunosuppressant drugs. In some cases, the patient has the tendency of rejecting the organ or even dies from infections that can occur.
The body probes proteins on the surface of the cell and then determines if the cells do belong or are foreign because if it is foreign then the body considers it as dangerous. Three of such proteins must be matched for blood donations. So doctors use a system wherein they pair the organ with the patient by having a match of at least six protein variables but this system is not enough to omit immunosuppressant drugs. To find a solution, scientists are trying several methods into tricking the immune system to accept donated organs.
A stem-cell specialist at Wake Forest University named Anthony Atala, tried a different approach by not using the organs from donors. Instead he tried making custom organs from scratch. It was in the year 1999 when he made a bladder using the patient’s own stem cells. He is still continuing his research by applying the same technique in making kidneys and other organs. This method is ideal for patients with non-genetic problems like spina bifida and lung diseases related to smoking. As for those that have genetic illnesses, using their cells to make the organs will still experience the same problem to those patients that are in need of a transplant. But to cope up with this problem, they try using healthier stem cells from someone but it must be done with extreme precision to match the patient. So Atala, together with his team, started to collect stem cells from amniotic fluid and placenta that are then placed on a stem-cell bank. The bank will have more than 100,000 unique samples that are sufficient to almost match 90 percent of Americans.
Sophisticated organs like this one cannot be available for at least 5 years. It will even take longer for the stem-cell banks to be able to cater people that have rare DNA profiles. To create a solution for this one, bodies will be coaxed for it to accept a wider variety of organs and which may also include those that are from nonhuman animals. A possible method is to give an extra dose of mesenchymal stem cells to patients that can tame the immune system near where they reside. This treatment can settle down the immune reactions that are close to the transplant site which leaves the rest of the immune system to combat infections. In the University of California at Davis, researchers are also using the cells to help dogs in tolerating canine to canine liver transplants. And for almost five years, the treatment was also used on dozens of human bone-marrow transplant recipients. This approach still has no guarantee though. There are some researchers who said that if the immune systems are weak, even in discrete areas, it will make patients more vulnerable to various infections. They suggest that doctors should just camouflage the donated cells so that it won’t get detected by the body’s defenses. But this idea was already formulated way before the organ transplant itself. Scientists have tried this idea by hiding the foreign cells in a microscopic mesh capsule which will allow the cells to absorb nutrients and excrete waste molecules while they remain hidden from the immune system, which then identifies the cells by touching them.
A company in San Diego named Viacyte, is one of the research groups that are trying to develop containers to house the cells. It involves testing a bioartificial pancreas in treating diabetes wherein a plastic cartridge that houses millions of cells releases insulin that is in flux with the body’s requirement. The company claims that the prototype test was successful in treating diabetes to hundreds of mice. Scientists still continue to study all the possible solutions but the final treatment may not be available for quite some time. As of the moment, everyone should think of helping those in need of organs by becoming a donor.