A Cornell graduate student has developed a potential new method of monitoring the health of transplanted organs.
The new technique, based on existing blood monitoring methods, attempts to make use of small molecules floating in the blood called cell free DNA (cfDNA). CfDNA is usually very short and enters the bloodstream when cells die and collapse, expelling their contents into the blood.
cfDNA is usually broken down by proteins in the blood called enzymes, however it is still available for some time following cell death. cfDNA can include DNA from cells in transplanted organs that have died, meaning a simple blood sample could indicate how well a transplant is being accepted by the recipient.
The hope of the study is to use the technology to create a simple blood test for monitoring transplant health which could replace the current standard method of frequent biopsies. A blood test would offer a cheaper and faster means of gathering information about how well a transplant is being tolerated by the recipient’s body.
A total of 40 cfDNA samples were taken from six double-lung transplant recipients. The samples were subjected to two different methods to help identify the cfDNA: the conventional method and the new method.
The new method was more effective at identifying very short lengths of cfDNA.
The paper’s authors call for an extended time protocol for any future experiments of the same nature as well as highlighting the method’s potential use in conditions that are monitored through urine testing. The Food and Drug Administration is currently considering issuing guidance for the licensing of cfDNA tests.
Although promising, this study was undertaken by a team of academic researchers from Cornell University and is therefore in its infancy in terms of developing a legitimate blood test. The potential is there but it may take some time to see it come to fruition.
Philip Burnham, Min Seong Kim, Sean Agbor-Enoh, Helen Luikart, Hannah A. Valantine, Kiran K. Khush, Iwijn De Vlaminck. Single-stranded DNA library preparation uncovers the origin and diversity of ultrashort cell-free DNA in plasma. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 27859