Immunosupression-Free Kidney Transplant

At UCLA Health, our world-renowned specialists offer an innovative approach to kidney transplantation. By using donor stem cells, we may eliminate the long-term need for immunosuppressive drugs following a transplant.

Find your care

Experts are here to answer your questions about our approach to kidney transplantation. Call 310-267-7727 to connect with a specialist from the Living Kidney Donor Team.

Illustration of kidneys

What is the kidney transplant tolerance program?

Our kidney transplant tolerance program offers a groundbreaking approach to kidney transplantation. We use donor stem cells and radiation therapy to prepare your immune system for a newly transplanted kidney. This approach, called immune tolerance or immunosuppression-free protocol, helps your body welcome the new organ.

In standard organ transplants, recipients have to take several immunosuppressive (anti-rejection) drugs for the rest of their lives. These drugs prevent the immune system from rejecting, or attacking, the new organ. They also include many side effects and potential complications, such as increased risk of cancer, infections, diabetes and heart disease. Over time, these drugs may also damage the newly transplanted kidney.

The UCLA Health transplant tolerance protocol may help to eliminate the long-term need for anti-rejection drugs. Our tolerance program frees kidney recipients from the lifelong burden of these medications and their side effects. Potentially, recipients will not need another kidney transplant in their lifetime.

UCLA Health excellence in kidney transplant tolerance

The UCLA Health kidney transplantation team works with experts from many different departments to offer this revolutionary treatment. We bring together specialists who are leaders in their respective fields. Made possible by funding from the OneLegacy Foundation, this program reflects an unwavering commitment to our patients’ well-being.

Highlights of our program include: 

Advanced expertise: Currently, UCLA Health is the only medical center in the U.S. offering a kidney transplant tolerance program for well-matched siblings. Our experts collaborate on this innovative approach to help transplant recipients live healthier, longer.

Continued research: We are always discovering ways to improve treatments. We offer our current program to eligible donor/recipient siblings. Our goal is to expand the program to include deceased donors and donors from outside the recipient’s family.

Multispecialty team: This immunosuppression-free approach requires extensive coordination and teamwork among specialists from many departments, including nephrology, urology, radiation oncology and hematology. At UCLA Health, we’re uniquely qualified to bring these experts together. We draw upon our combined expertise to deliver advanced treatments.

National leaders in transplants: At UCLA Health, we perform more transplants than any other center in the United States. Most importantly, we have excellent outcomes.

Benefits of the kidney transplant tolerance program

To achieve a successful kidney transplant without the need for immunosuppression drugs, our transplant-tolerance team induces mixed chimerism in organ recipients. Mixed chimerism blends the recipient’s immune system with that of the donor. This blended approach allows the recipient’s body to recognize the new organ as familiar rather than foreign, reducing rejection risk.

We help kidney recipients:

Achieve transplant tolerance

After a transplant, the body’s natural response is to see a new organ as foreign and a threat. This response causes the immune system to reject the organ. Your immune system usually protects your body from germs that can make you sick, but sometimes it attacks healthy cells it doesn’t recognize. If the immune system attacks the new kidney, it can’t function properly. Rejection can happen right away or gradually.

The goal after any kidney transplant is to help the immune system accept the new organ as part of the body and allow it to work like it should. This acceptance is called transplant tolerance. Mixed chimerism fosters transplant tolerance by helping your immune system see the new organ as part of your own body instead of foreign.

Avoid immunosuppressive drugs

Standard kidney transplantation procedures require recipients to take several anti-rejection (immunosuppressive) drugs for the rest of their lives. These drugs stop the immune system’s natural response, which is to attack the new organ. Side effects from immunosuppressive drugs can be severe, however, especially with long-term use. They can also increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and infection.

Expert kidney transplantation

At UCLA Health, our team includes some of the top transplant surgeons, nephrologists and hematologists in the United States. You can rest assured knowing that you’re getting exceptional care before, during and after a kidney transplant.

Targeted radiation therapy

Shortly after transplant surgery, our radiation oncologists deliver several radiation treatments. Radiation allows donor blood stem cells to engraft (establish themselves in your body) and grow.

We deliver precise treatments and carefully avoid exposing your newly transplanted kidney to radiation. After a series of radiation treatments, your body is primed to receive your donor’s stem cells.

Stem cell injections

After a kidney transplant and radiation therapy, hematology experts will give you infusions of stem cells from your donor. Stem cells (or hematopoietic stem cells ) are special types of cells. They can multiply and divide, renew themselves and develop into many different types of cells in the body.

Your doctor removes your donor’s stem cells and injects them into your body, where they combine with your own stem cells. These infusions help your body recognize your new kidney and continue to accept it in the future.

Over time, our team monitors your overall health and kidney function with regular blood tests. One of these tests measures the level of chimerism, or how well your donor’s stem cells are blending into your own blood and bone marrow.

Meet our team

Our transplant tolerance team includes experts from nephrology, urology, hematology and radiation oncology. We work together to offer groundbreaking kidney transplantation, radiation therapy, stem cell infusions and outstanding care.

Contact us

Our experts are here to answer your questions about an immunosuppression-free approach to kidney transplantation. Call 310-267-7727 to connect with a specialist from the Living Kidney Donor Team.