Bone marrow transplants involve harvesting stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy person and transplanting them into a patient with certain cancers or blood disorders- leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease, to name a few. Harvesting stem cells from a relative usually has the best outcome, but that’s not always possible. A full sibling only has about a 25% chance of being a match, so most patients find an unrelated match through the bone marrow registry. (www.bethematch.org) Finding a way to improve the outcome for unrelated matches is always a goal in research- and this is where horses and rabbits come in!
Researchers inject human T-cells into a rabbit or a horse. Then, the animal’s immune system kills the T-cells and their bodies create antibodies. These antibodies are then removed and given to human patients- and they then kill the patient’s T-cells, reducing the risk of rejection!
Horse or rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) has been used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients as well as in the treatment of aplastic anemia. Talk about animals helping people!