Drugs currently used have a number of side effects, including leaving patients at greater risk of infections and cancer, because they are unable to specifically target the area of the immune system responsible for organ rejection.
In breakthrough research funded by British Heart Foundation experts found the enzyme glucokinase increases the movement of a cells into human organs.
Once inside the organ tissue they act as guardians of the immune system, preventing it from rejecting a transplant.
Researchers from Queen Mary University, London, found that when cells were treated with a drug known to increase the activity of glucokinase they moved into the organ tissue of mice in much greater numbers.
The results suggest AZD1565, developed to treat people with Type 2 diabetes, which increases the activity of the glucokinase enzyme, could now also be used to prevent organ rejection after a transplant without side-effects.
Federica Marelli-Berg, Professor of Cardiovascular Immunology at Queen Mary University, London, said: “With this research we’ve hit upon a completely different way to stop organ rejection.
“Our next step is to take the drug into clinical trials. If the trials are successful, these findings could prove to be life-changing for patients who have had a transplant.”
In the year to March 4,753 people in the UK received life-changing organ transplants.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: “Heart transplantation has come a long way since the first heart transplant nearly fifty years ago.
“However, when our immune system rejects the donated heart this can have devastating consequences.
“With this research we are one step closer to reducing the number of people suffering from organ rejection, and to prevent people from re-joining a growing transplant waiting list.
“Ultimately, our hope is people who have undergone this procedure will live longer, healthier lives with a healthy donor heart.”