Organs derived from pigs (xenografts) represent a solution to the severe organ shortage that currently plagues human organ transplantation. The Xenotransplantation Laboratory led by Dr. Kearns-Jonker is studying the immunology of xenograft rejection and the application of gene therapy to induce transplantation tolerance. Ongoing research projects include:
- analysis of immunoglobulin genes used by organ recipients to target transplanted xenografts
- analysis of the molecular structure of xenoantibody-antigen binding, making use of site-directed mutagenesis and computer modeling
- development of treatment strategies to prevent graft rejection, including the application of anti-idiotypic antibodies and small molecular inhibitors designed to specifically target the xenoantibody binding site
- the application of gene therapy to induce transplant tolerance
Success in any of these research projects will offer greater quality of life to organ transplant recipients, as they will reduce the severe side-effects associated with currently available immunosuppression therapies. During the 2003-2004 research period, Dr. Mary Kearns-Jonker received a number of new research grants and made significant advances towards long-term survival of transplanted hearts in the mouse model. The xenotransplantation laboratory recently reported the successful application of gene therapy using lentiviral vectors to induce chimerism and long-term heart graft survival in a mouse model. The long-term goals of this work are to apply gene therapy to induce transplantation tolerance.