Health Advice



Stem cells instead of drugs? Trial is testing a way to help strengthen transplant patients' immune systems

Madeline Buckley, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

Rainey was formerly a dancer for Chicago’s Muntu Dance Theatre, which performs traditional African dance. She recently decided to get back into dance, and traveled to Michigan for a dance conference. She wore a mask throughout the classes, but relished getting back into her passion.

“It was a really great experience,” she said.

Northwestern worked with other medical centers to start the clinical trial in 2009. In the trial’s first two phases, the researchers tested the safety and efficacy of the treatment with 37 patients enrolled between 2009 and 2016. Leventhal said 26 of those patients were able to be taken off immunosuppressants, and six have been off for more than a decade.

“One of the patients who I’ve talked to tells me, I forget that I’m a transplant recipient because I’m living a normal life,” Leventhal said.

Rainey was enrolled for the third phase of the trial, which expanded to 120 patients participating in hospitals across the country.

Rainey’s path to a diagnosis of kidney disease was rocky, as she encountered some dismissive doctors who didn’t realize what was happening to her until years after her first symptoms. About a decade ago, Rainey said, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, even though she was a dancer and a vegetarian. She felt that something more was wrong, but she said doctors believed she suffered from high blood pressure because her mother did. Her mother, though, was able to take a pill and reduce her blood pressure, while Rainey’s remained out of control.


“I felt like they didn’t want to really look for any other causes because I was African American, and my mother had high blood pressure,” she said.

Years later, she was diagnosed with kidney disease and lived on dialysis for seven years.

While researching her options, Rainey and her daughter went to a kidney disease conference in Champaign-Urbana and learned about the clinical trial.

“We signed up for (a class) saying you can get a transplant and never have to take medication again,” she said. “Normally you have to take medication for the rest of your life.”


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