Working to Stop Rejection

Martina McGrath, MD, was drawn to nephrology because of its variety and complexity. Now she’s cracking some of transplantation’s biggest riddles.

Dr. McGrath researches therapies that can mold the body’s immune system; therapies that may help prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.

“Transplantation is a remarkable, life-saving therapy, but there is still considerable progress to be made,” Dr. McGrath said. “Almost sixty years after the first kidney transplant, there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the immune response to transplantation and rejection remains an ever-present problem.”

Dr. McGrath, 35, originally hails from Ireland and now resides in Boston, working in the Transplantation Research Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her current research initiative, The Role of TIM-4 on DCs vs. Macrophages in Alloimmunity, is supported by a Young Investigators Grant from the National Kidney Foundation.

Dr. McGrath’s team is building on research that shows the use of medications to block a specific molecule called TIM-4 dramatically improves transplant survival. The TIM-4 molecule is present on two different cell types within the human body and has several functions that are not fully understood.

“We believe that blocking one of these functions may be good for transplants,” she said.

The focus is to find out how TIM-4 affects the immune response to a transplant and how to best target treatment against TIM-4 to maximize transplant survival.

“The long-term goal of this work is to improve transplant outcomes,” she said. “It’s my hope that the results of these studies will help kidney patients who need a transplant; both by improving our understanding of the immune response to the transplanted kidney and also to provide a new treatment option that may improve the life of the transplanted kidney.”

The team’s findings will be published within the next two years.  As for the future, Dr. McGrath already has her sights set on new therapies that will advance transplantation and our understanding of the immune system.

‘I look forward to a time where we can ‘train’ a patient’s immune system to accept the transplanted kidney,” she said. “This may involve treating some of the patient’s own immune cells in the lab so they can no longer recognize the transplant as foreign. These cells could then be given back to the patient and provide protection against rejection. I also anticipate that new, more specific drugs will become available that can prevent long-term chronic rejection of the transplanted kidney.”