The bench side of organ transplant: Challenges and solutions

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“It is infinitely better to transplant a heart than bury it to be devoured by worms,” said Dr. Christiaan Barnard, the father of the heart transplant. It’s hard to disagree with this statement! Organ transplant today is an established treatment option for many patients with end organ damage. However, a long and complicated road awaits these patients, as finding a suitable donor is only the beginning of the story.

Serious problems can arise during the organ transplant process: acute rejection occurs between one week and a few months after transplant and is mediated by either T cells, B cells, or both. Thankfully, the rate of acute rejection is declining due to the adoption of immunosuppressive therapies, but this causes its own share of problems: organ toxicity and a depressed immune response, which in turn can lead to the opportunistic activation of Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and BK polyomavirus (BKV). Chronic rejection, involving memory/plasma cells, is now the leading cause of organ failure post-transplant, and currently, the gold standard for diagnosing organ failure is still to assay a tissue biopsy.

A blood test that measures cell free DNA (cfDNA) has been developed for transplant surveillance, and, although it helps with diagnosis, it doesn’t help researchers understand the how and why behind transplant failure.

Questions that have yet to be determined include:

  • Are there any biomarkers for organ rejection and tissue damage?
  • What are the mechanisms behind the drug-induced toxicity?
  • How can the opportunistic activation of viruses be identified and prevented?
  • What pathways and cell types are involved in transplant immune response?

And finally: How can all of this be determined quickly using tiny amounts of tissue that often contain limited amounts of degraded RNA due to formalin-fixation and preservation?

To that end, NanoString recently launched the nCounter® Human Organ Transplant Panel in collaboration with the Banff Foundation for Allograft Pathology, a global consortium of transplant institutes. This gene expression panel runs on the nCounter platform and benefits from the robust performance of direct, digital quantification of mRNA transcripts from challenging samples such as FFPE; therefore, the test is robust on different sample types and is easy to use from start to finish.

The Research Use Only Human Organ Transplant Panel includes 770 genes for studying kidney, heart, lung, and liver transplant samples and is fully customizable with room for an additional 30 user-defined targets.

Where can your research take you with the Human Organ Transplant Panel?

Now through November 1st, NanoString is awarding grants of 24 samples worth of the panel to projects involving high plex gene expression profiling for transplant research. One awardee will be chosen for each of the following application areas: viral infection, organ rejection, and drug development/safety. Awardees will also receive a basic nSolver data analysis service provided by NanoString. NanoString is looking forward to supporting your next publication – be the first to publish using the Human Organ Transplant Panel!

For more information on the transplant grant program and to apply, check out our website here.

By Laura Tabellini Pierre
For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.