Skip to content

UBC researchers develop 'breakthrough' for transplant patients

They're using a polymer in blood vessels to fight organ rejection.
UBC researchers are part of some ground breaking research into transplants.

Rejection of the new part is always a concern for transplant patients. 

While drugs are often used to assist the body in accepting the new organ, a research team led by UBC professor Dr. Jayachandran Kizhakkedathu have developed a totally different idea.

They used a polymer to coat blood vessels. So far it's worked in mice.

Basically, the polymers are imitating something already in the body. Blood vessels have a natural coating using special types of sugars to suppress the immune system, Kizhakkedathu says in a press release.

When an organ is moved from one body to another, those sugars are damaged and don't work properly in the new body.

Kizhakkedathu and his team were able to synthesize a polymer that mimics the special sugars and apply it to blood vessels.

Dr. Erika Siren, one of the team members, says part of the idea came to her when she visited a transplant facility. She realized that the period of time the organ sits outside of a body could be an opportunity.

“I remember seeing an organ sitting in a solution and thinking, ‘Here’s a perfect window to engineer something right,'” Siren says in a press release. “There aren’t a lot of situations where you’ve got this beautiful four-hour window where the organ is outside the body, and you can directly engineer it for therapeutic benefit.”

In tests using mice the concept was proven to work at SFU and Northwestern; at SFU an artery transplanted using the polymer showed low term resistance to inflammation and rejection.

"We were amazed by the ability of this new technology to prevent rejection in our studies,” says Dr. Jonathan Choy, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at SFU. “To be honest, the level of protection was unexpected.”

Clinical trials could still be years away, but the researchers are optimistic it will work for human hearts, lungs and other organs. Annually around 3,000 Canadians receive transplant organs each year.

"We’re hopeful that this breakthrough will one day improve quality of life for transplant patients and improve the lifespan of transplanted organs,” says Kizhakkedathu in the release.