Duke University doctors say a baby is thriving after his first heart transplant – one that comes with an additional technique to try to help prevent new organ rejection.
The thymus gland plays an important role in building the immune system. Doctors wondered if transplanting some matching thymus tissue to the donor organ could help it survive without the need for toxic anti-rejection drugs.
Easton Sinnamon of Asheboro, North Carolina, received a unique transplant last summer when he was 6 months old. But Duke waited to announce that until Monday after doctors learned that the specially treated thymus transplants appeared to be working as they had hoped – producing immune cells that were not considered healthy. Tot’s new heart like foreign tissue.
Doctors will eventually try to detox Easton from the immunosuppressive drugs needed after the transplant, said Dr. Joseph Turek, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Duke.
Research is in its early stages and there is only one possible method that scientists are experimenting with in the hope of creating what is known as immunity to the transplant.
But Turek says if it works, it could be tried with other organ transplants, not just hearts.
Easton is a candidate for an experimental transplant because he has two separate health problems. He was born with several heart defects that surgery shortly after birth failed to resolve. And he had recurrent infections that the doctors eventually realized his thymus gland wasn’t working properly.
Some babies are born without a thymus gland, which stimulates the growth of a part of the immune system called T cells. Separately, the Duke researchers worked with Enzyvant Therapeutics to develop it. laboratory transplants of donor thymus tissue to treat that rare disorder.
Easton combined both processes. The first surgeons transplanted his new heart while the donor thymus was sent to the lab. About two weeks later, he had a second surgery to transplant the treated thymus tissue. His own partially functioning thymus was removed, to clear the way for new immune cells to work.
About six months later, testing showed that the thymus tissue that was building Easton’s new T cells was working well, Turek said.
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