Combined Bone Marrow and Lung Transplant

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The two main factors that cause lung transplant failure are rejection and infection. Both influenced by the patient’s immune system. A combination bone marrow and lung transplant surgery has proven to reduce the onset of rejection and infection and increased long term survival rates.

Organ Distribution

Lung transplants are performed on patients that suffer from extreme illness due to cystic fibrosis, emphysema, cancer, pulmonary hypertension and many other chronic diseases. The United Network for Organ Sharing, UNOS has managed the distribution of organs in the United States. Before 2005, recipients were selected based on how long they were on the transplant list. In May 2005, a new protocol was developed similar to triage that listed recipients according to their need and chances of survival. The results have been an increased survival rate of lung transplant recipients. Still, the incident of rejection manages to cause the majority of transplant failures.


Patients needing lung transplants might find that a combined bone marrow and lung transplant can reduce the risk for rejection. The procedure is not new. A study was conducted at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999 on 26 lung transplant recipients that received bone marrow within the first 72 hours. A comparison was made between patients that received the bone marrow and those that didn’t. The most noticeable difference was chronic rejection, a condition that keeps air from moving through the lung’s bronchioles. The bone marrow recipients showed a lower rate of the condition. Only nine percent of patients that received bone marrow transplants suffered from rejection while 42 percent of patients without the bone marrow suffered rejection.

A 16 year old girl suffering from an immune deficiency since she was six months old received a combined bone marrow and lung transplant. The disease that racked her body all of her life, caused the death of her three year old brother and damaged her lungs beyond repair. The only answer was a lung transplant but her immune system would surely attack new lungs. Dr. Zaas from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina performed the surgery. Shortly before June of 2010, the patient left the hospital with new lungs and a new immune system. The donor bone marrow replaced more than 98 percent of her immune system. The lungs belonged to the same donor as the bone marrow. This gave the impression to the immune system that the lungs belonged.

Matching lungs and bone marrow for donation are not as hard as acquiring enough organs to reach the patients waiting for lung transplants. Prevention is the key to reducing the need. In many cases, cancer and emphysema can be prevented through education. Continued research like the kind that developed the use of bone marrow during organ transplants can give hope of full recovery to suffering patients.


The New York Times:Lung Patients See a New Era of Transplants

CBS News: Double Transplant Operation Saves Teen’s Life

Science Daily: Bone Marrow With Organ Transplants Reduces Rejection Of Transplanted Organs, Reports University Of Pittsburgh