International grant supports study related to preventing organ rejection

02/06/04

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa researcher is among a handful of organ transplantation investigators in the United States to receive an international competitive grant.

Roche Organ Transplantation Research Foundation (ROTRF) awarded a three-year grant of 300,000 Swiss francs (approximately $240,000) to Nicholas Zavazava, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, for a study that could help lead to new therapies to prevent organ rejection in recipients.

The average survival rate for grafts (donated organs) is approximately 90 percent within the first year for patients treated at most centers in the United States. However, 10 years after transplantation, less than 50 percent of the grafts in patients survive. Immunosuppressive drugs can help make a recipient's immune system accept and maintain a donor organ, but the drugs themselves can ultimately contribute to rejection or death.

Specifically, the grant will support Zavazava's work on animal models to understand how embryonic stem cells are accepted into a recipient cell system and are able to differentiate, that is, grow into all types of tissues. Embryonic cells do not cause the body's immune system to attack and, thus, have the potential to develop into white blood cells that will be compatible with a donated organ. These new white blood cells then can function in a recipient without the need for immunosuppressive drugs.

Zavazava staffs a clinic in the Division of Allergy and Immunology and a clinic in travel medicine, both in the UI Department of Internal Medicine. He also is vice director of the Iowa Regional Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics Laboratory at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City.

In addition to the UI, three other institutions in the United States received ROTRF grants, including Yale University School of Medicine, Stanford University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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