When people receive an organ transplant, they have to take drugs that keep their body's immune system from rejecting the organ. Unfortunately, these drugs suppress the immune system as a whole, leaving the patient more vulnerable to infections and cancer. There could be hope, however, in the form of a new drug that's currently being developed to treat type 2 diabetes.

In lab tests on mice conducted by a team from Queen Mary University of London, it was discovered that an enzyme known as glucokinase increases the movement of regulatory T cells into organs. Regulatory T cells are part of the immune system, and they suppress the immune responses of other cells. Once inside a transplanted organ, they could protect it from being rejected.

When the scientists analyzed blood samples from people with a genetic mutation that caused their version of the glucokinase enzyme to be more active, it was found that the regulatory T cells moved into their organs more readily.

Based on these findings, it is now hoped that the new diabetes drug – which increases glucokinase activity – could also be used to prevent organ rejection after transplant. Because it specifically targets the part of the immune system responsible for organ rejection, it shouldn't have the negative side effects of current medications.

"Our next step is to take the drug into clinical trials," says lead scientist Prof. Federica Marelli-Berg. "If the trials are successful, these findings could prove to be life-changing for patients who have had a transplant."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Immunity.