M14 — April 2012 — Identical Twins Transplant
Intro: Organ transplantation has come a long way in recent years. For example, kidney transplants are very successful operations. But unless a patient gets an organ from an identical twin, he's stuck taking medication to suppress his immune system so the body doesn't reject it. Doctors at Mayo Clinic want to change that. They're researching ways to grow organs from a patient's own stem cells. It's called regenerative medicine, and it offers hope for a solution to organ rejection.
It was just about a year ago that Ernesto Boleaga learned his symptoms; fatigue, anemia and swollen feet, were caused by severe kidney failure.
"It was life changing from one day to another."
Ernesto was stunned when his doctor broke the news.
"He said it might be necessary to have a kidney transplant."
"I have two kidneys. I said that if I can give you one of my two kidneys, please take it."
Ernesto's twin brother, Jose Luis, did not hesitate to offer the gift of life.
"He said you have never asked me anything. I'm giving it to you."
Because they're identical twins, the brothers have the same genetic makeup. That means Ernesto's body will accept Jose Luis' kidney as its own. But if he were to get a kidney from an unrelated donor, Ernesto's immune system would recognize it as foreign and try to reject it. Drugs that suppress the immune system help stop that process. But they cause side effects, and over time your body's immune system wins and damages the new kidney.
"The question is; how do you keep that organ for the rest of your life? I think the challenge today is not that we can do a successful transplant, not that we can keep that kidney or that organ in the body for short term, but how do you make that organ last for a lifetime?"
Transplant surgeon Dr. Mikel Prieto and colleagues say regenerative medicine may hold the answer to that question.
"We hope that sometime in the future we will be able to reproduce an organ that is essentially genetically identical to the patient getting it. This is what we call regenerative medicine, where we can actually grow cells or grow organs that are genetically no different. And when we achieve that, then basically every transplant will be like doing a transplant between identical twins."
Right now, researchers in the lab are able to turn stem cells into other cells, such as kidney cells. The hope is that one day they will be able to grow those cells into life saving organs for people like Ernesto.
"I feel that I'm waking up."
Waking up from a serious illness into a world in which colors are brighter and every day is a blessing.
"I'm blessed for the brother I have."
For Mayo Clinic, I'm Vivien Williams.
At any given time there are up to 86-thousand people worldwide waiting for donor organs. Until researchers can make regenerative medicine reality, you can make a difference by being an organ donor.
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