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Heart Transplants in Babies Not Limited by Blood Type

Those under age 1 will accept organs that aren't a match, researchers say

FRIDAY, April 8, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Babies under the age of 1 can receive heart transplants from donors with different blood types without risk of organ rejection, says a study in the current issue of Nature Medicine.

This finding means that infants who need a heart transplant have a better chance of receiving a heart and surviving, and that there can be a more efficient use of donor organs overall, the researchers said.

The study, by researchers in Toronto, found that a heart from a donor with Type A blood could be successfully transplanted into a baby with Type O blood. Unlike older children and adults, babies don't yet have the antibodies that would cause rejection of a donor organ from a person with a different blood type.

"The baby's body educates itself to accept the organ and become tolerant of the blood type," study co-author Dr. Lori West, a pediatric cardiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children, said in a prepared statement.

She noted that a recipient's tolerance of a donor organ has been one of the major challenges of transplant medicine. It was accepted that a recipient's body would always reject an organ from a donor with a different blood type.

"The medical community has been trained that you just don't cross that blood group barrier. For the first time, we have shown that the immune systems of human infants can tolerate intentional induction of B-cells to T-independent A and B antigens," West said.

She and her colleagues have also had success with other blood type combinations.

"We have induced Type B to Type O, AB to O, A to B, etc., all with excellent results," she said.

"This knowledge will save lives. More babies will survive congenital heart defects and go on to live fulfilling lives with a donor heart. We can use this knowledge to decrease the amount of time a patient must wait for a new heart -- we'll be able to use donor organs more efficiently and perform increasingly successful transplants," West said.

More information

The National Kidney Foundation has more about organ donation and transplantation.

SOURCE: International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, news release, April 4, 2005
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