What is Transplant Immunology?

The immune system is designed to protect us from harmful viruses, bacteria and malignant tumors. It does this with the help of human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which are genetic fingerprints that help the body distinguish between its own cells and foreign substances. If the immune system detects small fragments of foreign invaders bound to HLA molecules, it responds by attacking to combat the spread of disease.

Just as the body can launch an immune reaction against infection, it can also recognize foreign HLA molecules on transplanted organs and cells, resulting in an immune attack. These reactions are called graft rejection and are very serious, threatening the transplanted organ or cells and the survival of the patient.

To avoid graft rejection and graft-versus-host disease, it is important to find the most compatible donor for every patient. The University of Chicago Medicine's Transplant Immunology and Immunogenetics Laboratory, under the direction of Susana R. Marino, MD, PhD, diplomate of the American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (ABHI), offers complete tissue type (histocompatibility) testing using state-of-the-art technology performed by highly qualified staff. The laboratory performs pre-transplant testing and post-transplant monitoring to support UChicago Medicine's transplant programs.

Patients being considered for transplantation undergo extensive evaluations to assess their HLA type, the presence of existing anti-HLA antibodies and to determine the degree of matching with the transplant donor. After transplant, a variety of tests are performed to monitor immune status of the transplant recipient. In addition, the laboratory performs HLA testing for disease association, drug hypersensitivity and for platelet transfusion support.

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