Babies born without a thymus - an essential immune system component - can get a shot at life with surgery using tissue normally discarded during cardiac operations on other infants, researchers said on Thursday. Between five and 10 children are born in the United States each year without a thymus gland, and they always die because they cannot develop an immune system.
The thymus is the organ that programs the T-cells that recognize and attack invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
But a team at Duke University Medical Center and colleagues at Necker Hospital in Paris, France, said they implanted discarded thymus tissue in 12 children without thymuses, and seven have survived for between 2 and 10 years.
The slices of thymus tissue produced enough T-cells to keep the infants healthy, they reported in the journal Blood. Part of the thymus is removed during cardiac surgery on infants, and the researchers said the parents of such babies will often happily donate it.