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Immunotherapy trial fighting infection in transplant patients

6 July 2018

A world-first clinical trial that uses organ transplant patients’ own immune cells to ward off viral infection could revolutionise treatment for patients who would normally face a lifetime of medication.

The immunotherapy treatment involved taking blood from patients, training their killer T (immune) cells to destroy a potentially life-threatening cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and injecting the cells back into the patients.

The Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) was one of four sites that participated in the joint research led by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s world-leading immunologist Professor Rajiv Khanna.

PAH Nephrologist Dr Scott Campbell said that a patient who has had an organ transplant would typically receive drugs to protect them from cytomegalovirus.

“Taking those drugs long-term means that some patients can develop a drug-resistant strain of the virus, and develop cytomegalovirus-associated complications due to their weakened immune system,” he said.

“The anti-viral drugs designed to prevent and treat cytomegalovirus also have many other unpleasant side-effects that can lead to severe illness, or even cause other organs in the body to shut down.”

Though the Phase 1 clinical trial was just the beginning, the killer T cell immunotherapy could provide doctors with another option to treat very unwell patients in the future.

Professor Khanna said the research group had now developed a new version of the therapy following the Phase 1 trial, and planned to commence another clinical trial next year.

Professor Khanna said the new version of the immunotherapy also aimed to treat other viral infections that are common in organ transplant patients.

The research was published today (Friday 6 July) in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and was made possible with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Last updated 6 July 2018
Last reviewed 6 July 2018

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