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Blood test devised at Children's to aid in predicting chance of organ rejection

Luis Fábregas
| Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, 12:17 a.m.

A personalized blood test developed at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh will help doctors predict the likelihood of organ rejection in some children, the hospital said Wednesday.

Such a prediction should provide a significant benefit to patients because doctors could eventually wean them off harmful anti-rejection drugs, said Dr. Rakesh Sindhi, who led the research team that developed the test. It received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in August.

“Anti-rejection medications are a life-long problem, and at the very least, this should help people do a better job with their management,” said Sindhi, co-director of pediatric transplantation at the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation at Children's. He invented the technology used for the test.

Anti-rejection medicines have long been considered one of the main drawbacks of organ transplants. Patients often take them for life to prevent the immune system from attacking the new organ. But taking the drugs puts them at increased risk for developing side effects such as infections and cancers, doctors said.

In studies prior to its approval, the blood test predicted acute cellular rejection with accuracy in about 80 percent of cases. More than 200 children who received liver and intestine transplants participated in the studies.

Doctors, until now, have been forced to rely on biopsies to determine ongoing rejection. The procedure, which requires surgery and can cost as much as $3,000, does not predict the likelihood of rejection, Sindhi said. Cellular rejection affects half of all transplant recipients in their lifetime, he said. While it can be treated, it is important to monitor it, because it can lead to loss of the organ.

Sindhi said with the new technology, doctors could test patients just once after surgery.

Technology for the test, called Pleximmune, was licensed by the University of Pittsburgh to Plexision, a biotech firm based in Lawrenceville. Doctors at several transplant centers nationwide have started using the test, Sindhi said. More than 500 children receive liver transplants every year, and about 30 receive small bowel transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media's medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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