To help figure that out, researchers are beginning some new experiments:
—Rather than treating only new transplant patients, the Northwestern-Louisville team is about to begin a pilot study transplanting donor immune cells to people years after they received their new kidney — as long as their long-ago organ donors still are alive and willing to provide those cells.
—Stanford is testing only people with well-matched donors, and hopes later this year to begin the first larger, multi-hospital study of that population. It also is about to begin testing its method in people with poorly-matched donors, like those studied by Northwestern and Mass General. That's important because so many transplant patients lack a well-matched kidney.
—Mass General's study is set to restart soon after some changes to minimize side effects.
Stay tuned: This may not be the only approach. At Emory University, Dr. Kenneth Newell is compiling a registry of truly rare patients — kidney recipients who somehow survive despite quitting the pills on their own because they couldn't afford them or because of side effects. He's only discovered about three dozen so far. Researchers are testing them for biological markers that might explain why they fared well and who else is a good candidate — and have found clues that a completely separate part of the immune system plays a role.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.