The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) segment National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Based on DNA sequencing, the new test is expected to help doctors tailor transplant treatments to patients who are at highest risk for rejection.
The donor-derived cell-free DNA test requires a blood sample from the arm of the transplant recipient. DNA fragments from the sample are then examined using select devices and computer analysis.
Higher amounts of donor DNA in the recipient’s bloodstream is said to indicate a higher risk for transplant rejection because injured or dying cells from the donor release more DNA fragments.
The team evaluated the DNA test in a study involving 106 lung transplant recipients. Samples were collected in the initial three months following the transplant.
Findings revealed that patients with higher levels of the donor DNA fragments in the first three months of transplantation were at six times more risk of transplant organ failure or death, compared to those having donor-derived DNA levels.
In addition, the investigators observed that more than 50% of the high-risk individuals did not display outward signs of clinical complications during the study period.
Study co-leader Hannah Valantine said: “We showed for the first time that donor-derived DNA is a predictive marker for chronic lung rejection and death, and could provide critical time-points to intervene, perhaps preventing these outcomes.
“Once rejection is detected early via this test, doctors would then have the option to increase the dosages of anti-rejection drugs, add new agents that reduce tissue inflammation, or take other measures to prevent or slow the progression.”
Lung transplant recipients are known to have the shortest survival rates among patients receiving solid organ transplantation. They are said to face a high incidence of chronic rejection.