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Bold collaborative research on transplant rejection at University of Montreal

Mélanie Dieudé and Marie-Josée Hébert

While there have been great advances in organ transplantation since the 1960s, 10% of transplants still wind up by being rejected over the short term. However, that statistic could soon change, thanks to a discovery by researchers Marie-Josée Hébert and Mélanie Dieudé. 

Autoimmune disease and rejection were long considered to be two distinct phenomena, but the researchers and their multidisciplinary team from the Canadian National Transplant Research Program (CNTRP) have discovered that autoimmunity also plays a role in rejection… and in 2017, they were even able to pinpoint the cell structure that provokes rejection. 

“Even if the transplanted organ is healthy, it still experienced trauma when it was harvested  from the donor’s body. It sends distress signals through small vesicles. Those signals impel the recipient’s body to attack it, just as the body used to go after the old, sick organ,” Hébert explains. 

If we can treat and calm a healthy organ while it is still being kept alive, it will stop emitting signals and will be better received once it is transplanted. This will lead to a longer lifespan for transplanted organs, fewer side effects and anti-rejection drugs that are not as strong as those currently used. 

In the final analysis , transplant patients like Sylvain Bédard, a patient partner and heart transplant recipient, will enjoy much improved quality of life. Bédard shares his experiences and works closely with the research team in the hope that this discovery will mean that more people on the waiting list for organs can be saved, get back on their feet more quickly, and even – who knows? – climb mountains.