Doctors play a delicate balancing act when prescribing immune-suppressing drugs to organ transplant patients. The drugs must be strong enough to suppress the immune system so the patient doesn't reject the transplanted organ, but not so strong the patient becomes vulnerable to infections.
The new test measures the energy level of immune-system cells called lymphocytes. In the Loyola study, researchers found that patients with high-energy lymphocytes did not develop infections. Those with low-energy lymphocytes were vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, herpes and skin infections.
Doctors traditionally have monitored the immune system by counting the number of immune cells in a given sample. The new test monitors just how active those cells are by measuring an energy-carrying molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, that's released from the cells. The higher the ATP level, the more active the cells.
The Loyola team analyzed 37 samples from 26 heart transplant patients. 15 patients with infections had lower ATP levels than eleven patients who did not have infections. Patients with infections also had low immune cell counts. "Infection is associated with a low level of immune cell function in this small study”, said Loyola cardiologist Dr. Biljana Pavlovic-Surjancev. "It will take additional studies to find out if this test can help us see the risk of infection before infection occurs”, she said.
MEDICA.de; Source: Loyola University Health System