'World first' for double hand transplant patient

Double hand transplant patient Tanya Shepherd from Hull
Tanya Shepherd has had plasma removed from her blood to prevent her body rejecting her new hands [NHS]

A woman who had a double hand transplant has undergone pioneering NHS treatment to prevent her body rejecting them.

Tanya Shepherd, from Hull, became the UK’s first female recipient of two replacement hands in 2018, only for her immune system to identify the tissue as foreign.

Now, in what is thought to be a world first, she has received a blood treatment called plasma exchange, in which antibodies are removed to reduce the risk of rejection.

Ms Shepherd, 48, said rejection was "a real and scary risk", but she was "honoured" to be the first to trial the treatment.

Her symptoms, which included swelling, reduced dexterity and changes in skin pigmentation, have now begun to improve.

Ms Shepherd received a double hand and arm transplant at Leeds General Infirmary in September 2018 after losing both hands and three-quarters of her left arm to sepsis.

However, she began suffering symptoms of antibody mediated rejection (AMR) – a type of rejection where the immune system identifies the tissue as foreign and produces antibodies to fight it.

She is being treated in Leeds by Therapeutic Apheresis Services, an NHS team which removes harmful, disease-forming proteins, chemicals or cells from patients' blood.

Ms Shepherd has received 10 sessions of therapeutic plasma exchange, in which plasma is removed from the blood to quickly decrease or remove the antibodies.

She is now due to begin immunosuppressive treatment in the hope of preventing antibody levels from rising again.

Tanya Shepherd, with nurse Katie White, of the NHS Therapeutic Apheresis Services team
Tanya Shepherd, pictured with nurse Katie White, said rejection was 'a real and scary risk' [NHS]

Dr James Griffin, a medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Our aim is to protect the transplant while other therapies work to stop Tanya’s immune system from making the antibodies and we’re pleased that the treatment has served to ease Tanya’s symptoms.”

Ms Shepherd said the treatment had been made possible by "generous blood and plasma donors" and urged more people to sign up.

"I’m eternally grateful to those who already have, who have helped me on my journey,” she added.

Health minister Andrea Leadsom said: "Organ rejection is a real risk for transplant recipients and can have devastating consequences.

“NHS Blood and Transplant continues to champion innovative treatments like this world first plasma exchange, allowing people to receive further treatment and live their lives to the fullest.”

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