A better match between donor heart and recipient causes less rejection
A heart transplant is a life-saving treatment, but the ‘new’ heart can cause major complications. With this study I want to overcome those issues.
Each year, over 5000 patients worldwide receive a donor heart. These patients suffer from severe heart diseases for which a heart transplant is the only option for survival.
Severe side effects
Unfortunately, many patients who underwent heart transplantation suffer from rejection episodes, in which their body’s immune system attacks the ‘foreign’ heart. Therefore, patients need to take immunosuppressive drugs, which repress the immune system. However, these drugs have many side effects such as infections and tumors, from which patients may die.
Differences between the patient and the donor heart
I want to help patients who received a donor heart. A subset of rejection episodes are caused by differences in the DNA between the donor heart and the recipient. We believe that genes that are switched ‘on’ in the donor, but switched ‘off’ in the recipient, can cause an immune response which leads to rejection. This has never been studied before.
To study the differences in the DNA between donors and recipients, we have developed a software package. This helps us analyzing the differences between 20,000 genes in 1500 donor-recipient pairs.
Reduction of rejection episodes and side effects
I aim to use the results of my study to predict the risk of rejection. Patients with a lower rejection risk may need to use lower doses of medication. Eventually, we hope to set a better match between donor heart and recipients. Combining these strategies, we aim to reduce the risk of rejection and of severe side effects caused by the immunosuppressive drugs.