Living Donor Liver Transplantation May Allow Children to Withdraw from Anti-rejection Drugs

A majority of children who had received liver transplants from their parents were able to stop anti-rejection (immunosuppressant) medication in an encouraging study at three transplant centers.

"These findings bring us closer to the Holy Grail of transplant medicine, which is to give a patient an organ and then taper off use of drugs that prevent rejection," says study co-author Dr. Steven J. Lobritto, Medical Director of Pediatric Liver Transplantation at New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.

Physicians hope to avoid long term use of immunosuppressants because they may lead to complications including cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure.

The study involved 20 children. Twelve of them (60 percent) kept their transplanted livers for three years or more after they stopped taking the anti-rejection drugs. The other eight children were placed back on medication after their livers showed signs of rejection.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) led the study. Results were published in the Jan. 18, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Lobritto's patients, as well as children from UCSF and from Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, participated.

"We may be able to tailor this technique to other transplanted organs that children receive," Dr. Lobritto says. "Not being exposed to the side effects of these drugs is a good thing, and we hope more children will eventually benefit."