"The body strikes back" - Transplant rejection

A life-saving organ transplantation is not always successful. The reason is that an organ of a foreign donator is attacked by the receiver’s natural defence mechanisms with the same weapons as a pathogen. The film elucidates how the immune cells detect foreign tissue and try to eliminate it.

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From the first heart transplantation to artificial hearts

Christiaan Neethling Barnard (1922 – 2001) crossed into uncharted surgical territory with the first heart transplant on 3 December, 1967. In the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, he transplanted a heart from a 25-year-old woman, who had died only a few hours before, into the 55-year-old patient Louis Washkansky and made headlines in newspapers and magazines around the world. Washkansky died 18 days after the operation from pneumonia. In January 1968, Barnard performed his second heart transplant. The patient, Philip Blaiberg, lived 563 days with the heart of another person. Since that time, the success rate has risen steadily.


Not only antigens of pathogens are recognized by the immune system, but also those of foreign tissue.

Today heart transplants are almost routine operations and even artificial hearts have long been used as transplants. However, there have been strong reactions to the plastic by the body. The artificial organs are very expensive and do not perform the functions even remotely as well as natural organs. Still, more than 14,000 people are waiting for a replacement organ in Germany alone. But fewer than 2,000 people every year are prepared to donate their organs. Therefore, artificial hearts have proven themselves best as a temporary solution. They give the patients more time to wait for a new organ.

The Eurotransplant International Foundation acts as a clearing house for organ donations in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Slovenia and The Netherlands. Transplant centres, tissue typing laboratories and hospitals in which organ transplants are performed participate in this international cooperation. The organs of brain-dead donors are first typed. Eurotransplant then takes data such as blood type antigens and tissue properties and searches the waiting list for a suitable recipient.

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