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Immunology

Last update on: 04/09/2009

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A Chance for Healing: Also for Children with very Severe Illnesses

The blood stem cell transplant is crucial for survival at the St. Anna Children's Hospital, particularly for patients with aggressive forms of cancer, but also for those with congenital diseases of the immune system.

 

Up to a few years ago, it was common to acquire blood precursor cells from bone marrow. St. Anna's research findings have, however, shown that the stem cells acquired from the blood (following corresponding processing) have considerably better growth in the recipient and are also much more tolerable for him/her.

 

Donating stem cells is less of a risk for the donor, for the recipient, this corresponds to the quick regeneration of haematopoiesis following a transplant.

 

With the help of the new molecular genetic methods, the regeneration of blood cells can be monitored after a transplant. Already in the first days following the transplant, a dangerous rejection or emerging regression can be detected and responded to quickly with treatment.

 

The first months following the transplant represent a critical time for the patient. Through the suppression of the immune system, the tolerability of the donated stem cells from the recipient organism must first be "learned". Up to the complete regeneration of the body's own immune system, there is a considerable risk of infection.

 

The goal of transplant immunology is to develop methods, which account for both aspects.

 

Hope through the Activation of the Body's own Defence Mechanism

Andreas Heitger

Univ.-Doz. Dr. Andreas Heitger provides the immune system with special indicators for tumour cells (tumour antigens), which the immune system can then combat in a focussed manner. He changes donor cells outside of the body in a process by the name of 'Toleration' and supplies these cells with tumour antigens. In the body, they then help the immune system to identify tumour cells as a threat and to successfully attack them.

In the future, such prepared immune cells could be used in stem cell transplantation.