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Stem-cell transplants

A medical breakthrough with stem cells may revolutionise organ transplants and save many lives.

In Greek mythology, the chimera was a creature with the head of a lion, body of a goat and tail of a serpent. In medical science, the phrase has come to be used by scientists to refer to transplants that involve donor tissue that is genetically distinct from the host.

Organ transplants, one of the most difficult and complicated procedures in medicine, could be about to take a massive leap forward.

Researchers at the University of Louisville and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago working with kidney-transplant patients have successfully engineered an injection of stem cells that may eliminate the need for a lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs. Medications for transplant patients work by retarding the immune system to stop it from rejecting the foreign organ; this often leads to other health problems.

The new injections worked on eight test patients, but it is too early to say whether the procedure will become commonplace. If the researchers' optimism is borne out, it would be the most important development in stem-cell therapy to date.

Stem-cell therapies have often been controversial. If this procedure proves valid, however, it will radically improve - and even save - lives.

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