The results of a new study have found that patients who had undergone an organ transplant were able to wean themselves off anti-rejection drugs with the help of stem cells. [1]


What are anti-rejection drugs and why are they taken?

Tolerance is the holy grail of organ transplantation, the name for the body accepting the donated organ without the immune system believing it to be a foreign body and attacking it.

Currently, however, patients who undergo organ transplants are required to take immunosuppressant drugs in order to prevent what’s known as organ ‘rejection’. [2]

These drugs have to be taken for life and come with a range of unfavourable side effects, including increased exposure to infection and cancer, as well as risking damage to the donated organ. 


How does the stem cell treatment work?

By transferring stem cells from the donor to the patient receiving the donated organ – in this case, a kidney – researchers in the trial hoped to induce ‘mixed chimerism’, a phenomenon whereby the organ recipient’s immune system becomes a hybrid composed of their own and their donor’s cells. [3]

Once this is achieved, the transplanted organ theoretically remains free from attack as the body no longer considers it to be ‘foreign’. 

We covered a similar instance of stem cells being used to reprogramme the immune system in our blog about Aditi Shankar, who successfully underwent pioneering treatment to aid with a donated kidney last year. You can read more about Aditi’s story here.


What did the study find?

What the study found, the results of which were presented at the American Transplant Congress in Philadelphia, was that in 16 out of 19 cases, organ donor recipients who received stem cells from their HLA matched sibling no longer had to continue taking the immunosuppressant drugs after two years.

Additionally, researchers also noted improved quality of life outcomes for those who successfully underwent the treatment. [4]


What could this mean for future organ donor recipients?

Researchers in the trial are hoping that their findings can eventually result in future organ transplant recipients foregoing the need to take anti-rejection drugs. Not only are these drugs harmful but the damage they cause to the donated organ often leads to failure, resulting in a backlog of transplants. [5]

With the new treatment, any new organ transplants should theoretically be able to last a lifetime, expanding the pool of available organs in the process.

More research is needed to discover whether this treatment is viable for all types of organ transplant, beyond kidneys in this case, in addition to identifying whether the treatment is viable in cases where donated organs have been sourced through donors other than siblings.

Either way, this research is a huge step forward in the long held ambition of achieving tolerance for all organ transplant outcomes.

In this treatment researchers took advantage of the good chances of stem cell matches between siblings. The chance of a perfect stem cell match between full siblings is 1 in 4, with a 50% chance of a partial match. [6]

By saving stem cells for your baby you could not only safeguard their health, but also the health of their siblings.

If you want to know more about how saving stem cells could help protect your baby’s health, fill out your details below for a free Welcome Pack. 



[1] National Library of Medicine (2024, June 7). Cellular Immunotherapy in Recipients of HLA-matched, Living Donor Kidney Transplants. Clinical

[2] NHS – Blood and Transplant (n.d.). Rejection of a transplanted kidney. Organ Transplantation. Retrieved June 11, 2024, from

[3] Sachs, David H et al. “Induction of tolerance through mixed chimerism.” Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine vol. 4,1 a015529. 1 Jan. 2014, doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a015529

[4] Syal, A., M.D., & Herzberg, J. (2024, June 4). Adding stem cells to a kidney transplant could get patients off anti-rejection drugs, trial finds. NBC News. Retrieved June 11, 2024,

[5] Ruiz, Richard, and Allan D. Kirk. “Long-Term Toxicity of Immunosuppressive Therapy.” Transplantation of the Liver (2015): 1354–1363. doi:10.1016/B978-1-4557-0268-8.00097-X

[6] (2023, January 10). Donating your stem cells to a relative. Anthony Nolan.


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