Studies of the small sea squirt may ultimately help solve the problem of rejection of organ and bone marrow transplants in humans, according to scientists at UC Santa Barbara.
An average of 20 registered patients die every day waiting for transplants, due to the shortage of matching donor organs. More than 110,000 people are currently waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. alone. Currently, only one in 20,000 donors are a match for a patient waiting for a transplant.
These grim statistics drive scientists like Anthony W. De Tomaso, assistant professor of biology at UCSB, to delve into the cellular biology of immune responses. His studies of the sea squirt shed light on the complicated issue of organ rejection. The latest results are published online today in the journal Immunity.
De Tomaso hopes to understand how it might be possible to "tune" the body's immune response in order to dial down the rejection of a donated organ. Studying cellular responses in simple organisms may also eventually help with autoimmune diseases -- those in which the body mistakenly attacks itself.