In the last few years, thanks to the development of anti-rejection drug therapies, outstanding breakthroughs in short-term outcomes have been achieved among organ transplant patients. We first introduced you to belatacept on our blog in September of 2010, while the medication was being studied by our team of doctors and researchers. Then in June of last year, we announced the FDA’s approval of belatacept and its confirmed ability to provide a less toxic alternative to the standard anti-rejection medications, including calcineurin inhibitors like cyclosporine.
Even with these developments, though, significant challenges remain for patients over the long term with organ rejection and drug toxicity that often leads to cardiovascular disease, infection or cancer.
To help overcome these challenges, a new $20 million grant has been bestowed upon Emory from the National Institute of Health to allow physician/researchers to develop better treatments for organ transplant recipients that help avoid both organ rejection and drug toxicity. The new grant builds upon more than 18 years of groundbreaking research by Emory scientists—such as the investigation into belatacept—that has already significantly advanced the transplant field.
“Despite tremendous advances in immune drug therapy, the fact remains that organ recipients still must take immunosuppressant drugs over their lifetimes,” says Chris Larsen, MD, PhD, executive director of the Emory Transplant Center and principal investigator of the new grant. “Improvement in these transplant drugs is still a critical need for avoiding acute and late-stage rejection. Ultimately, we want to improve overall health while reducing cost through improved outcomes with fewer drugs.”
In addition to Dr. Larsen, project leaders from the Emory Transplant Center will include Allan D. Kirk, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Emory Transplant Center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar; Leslie Kean, MD, PhD, Emory associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Division of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Stuart J. Knechtle, MD, surgical director of the liver transplant program at Emory Transplant Center and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Andrew Adams, MD, PhD, assistant professor of surgery.
“The most important feature of this award is its support for multiple investigators attacking the problems of immunosuppression from different but complementary angles,” says Kirk. “The team science approach is the best way to get results to our patients.”
Several projects funded by the new grant will aim to develop more effective transplant drugs and strategies to avoid immunosuppressant drugs altogether.
An additional project will develop strategies to overcome immune sensitization in patients who have had previous transplants, pregnancies or blood transfusions. These patients often are not candidates for transplant because of their increased risk of rejection.
For more information about the Emory Transplant Center, its research projects and clinical programs please use the Related Resources links below.