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Transplant Hope: New thymus tissue jump-starts immune system in babies

Babies born without a thymus gland–and therefore bereft of a functioning immune system–are easy prey for disease-causing invaders. If untreated, this deficiency, called severe DiGeorge syndrome, is invariably fatal before a child's third birthday.

For babies with the syndrome, also called DiGeorge anomaly, a thymus transplant may present a life-changing option. But scientific information on such transplants has been limited to the results of sporadic case studies because the disease is rare, affecting only a handful of newborns each year in the United States. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., now report the largest series of thymus transplants–in 12 children with DiGeorge syndrome over 8 years–and show success in establishing an immune system in many of these babies. The report appears in the Aug. 1 issue of Blood.

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