Stories about: immunosuppression

Giving young organ transplant recipients a mobile reminder that might save their lives

Flow chart showing how the medication adherence app interacts with patients and a near-field-communication-enabled pillboxIn the U.S., more than 1,700 children receive organ transplants each year. Following transplantation, they must take immunosuppressants and steroids to protect their transplanted organ from being attacked by their own immune system.

But transplant teams know that kids are 60 percent more likely than adults to struggle with keeping a strict medication schedule. That puts the longevity of donated organs — and the lives of organ recipients — at unnecessary risk.

This challenge inspired a team of pediatric transplant experts at the Boston Children’s Hospital to develop a mobile application for smartphones that could serve as a portable reminder and a resource to support medication adherence.

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Giving the immune system a new start, to prevent transplant rejection

Leveling the immune system might let the body rebuild one that’s tolerant of a transplanted kidney. (Photo: Tom Ulrich)

As the science of transplantation has gotten better, the patients whose lives are saved by other people’s organs are living longer and longer. But they’re paying a price—a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs.  William Harmon, chief of Nephrology at Children’s Hospital Boston, is trying to change that.

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Immune system to Epstein-Barr virus-fueled cancers: “I’ve got an eye on you”

In the vast majority of us, the Epstein-Barr virus (above) causes mild illness and never bothers us again. However, it can lay dormant in small numbers of B cells for years, waking up if the immune surveillance keeping it in check is broken and fueling lymphomas. (NCI)

Some 90 percent of us are exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) at some point in our lives. While the immune system’s T cells rapidly clear most EBV-infected B cells, about one in a million infected cells escapes destruction. Within these cells, the virus enters a latent phase, kept in check by the watchful eye of so-called memory T cells.

This uneasy relationship usually holds steady for the rest of our lives, unless something suppresses the immune system – such as infection with HIV or use of anti-rejection drugs after a transplant – and breaks the surveillance. The virus can then reawaken and drive the development of certain B cell cancers.

How do our T cells keep their watch?

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