PHILADELPHIA – Today, researchers presented findings at the 68th AACC Annual Scientific Meeting that DNA found circulating in the bloodstream—known as cell-free DNA—can be used to identify liver transplant patients with acute rejection with greater accuracy than conventional liver function tests. This cell-free DNA test could help liver transplant patients receive crucial treatment for rejection faster, and has the potential to improve the prognosis of kidney and heart transplant patients as well.

Episodes of acute rejection—rejection that takes place in the first few months after an organ transplant—are relatively common. In liver transplant patients in particular, acute rejection develops in about 20% of those treated with standard immunosuppressive therapy. Monitoring for the onset of rejection so that healthcare providers can swiftly counteract it is therefore critical for the long-term survival of organ transplant recipients. However, the gold standard for identifying rejection is biopsy, which is expensive and invasive, and at present there are no effective blood tests to take its place.

A team of researchers led by Ekkehard Schütz, MD, PhD, from Chronix Biomedical in Göttingen, Germany set out to determine whether a blood test for graft-derived cell-free DNA—which is cell-free DNA from a transplanted organ—could identify liver transplant patients with acute rejection. In a first-of-its-kind prospective multicenter trial, they monitored graft-derived cell-free DNA in the blood of 106 adult liver transplant recipients for at least one year post transplant. They found that in the 87 stable patients with no signs of graft injury and who were negative for hepatitis C virus infection, the median graft-derived cell-free DNA percentage decreased within the first week to a baseline level of <10% of total cell-free DNA concentrations. However, in the 20 patients with samples drawn during biopsy-proven acute rejection periods, graft-derived cell-free DNA levels were about 10-fold higher than those observed in the stable patients.

Overall, Schütz and colleagues determined that by testing for graft-derived cell-free DNA levels >10%, they were able to identify more than 90% of liver transplant patients with acute rejection—which is a substantially higher percentage than what conventional liver function tests can identify. They also believe that this test could detect heart and kidney transplant rejection, and are conducting additional studies to confirm this.

“This is really a universal test—you can use it for all kinds of solid organ transplantation since it’s just detecting the graft DNA, and it’s independent of what graft you are looking at,” said Schütz. “It will allow us to start treating these patients as early as possible, which not only impacts the acute situation that the patient is suffering at the time, but also impacts the long term survival of the graft. If we are able to diagnose rejection quickly enough—within a day or one and a half days—and the treating physician can react, then we can avoid really high-grade rejections further down the line.”

In addition to this study, researchers will present the latest in cell-free DNA tests at the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo, including:

Session Information

AACC Annual Scientific Meeting registration is free for members of the media. Reporters can register online here:

Abstract A-121: Graft-derived cell-free DNA – a promising rejection marker in liver transplantation – results from a prospective multicenter trial will be presented during Session 32101: Hot Topics in Clinical Chemistry

Monday, August 1
10:30 a.m. – Noon
114 Lecture Hall

Scientific Posters A-013 and A-019
Tuesday, August 2
9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (presenting authors in attendance from 12:30–1:30 p.m.)
Terrace Ballroom

Scientific Poster B-365
Wednesday, August 3
9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. (presenting author in attendance from 12:30–1:30 p.m.)
Terrace Ballroom

All sessions and scientific posters will be presented at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

About the 68th AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo

The AACC Annual Scientific Meeting offers 5 days packed with opportunities to learn about exciting science from July 31–August 4. Plenary sessions feature the latest research on the use of and testing for cannabis, combating premature death due to preventable causes such as tobacco and alcohol, the development of an “intelligent” surgical knife, programmable bio-nano-chips, and the epigenetic causes of disease.

At the AACC Clinical Lab Expo, more than 750 exhibitors will fill the show floor of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, with displays of the latest diagnostic technology, including but not limited to mobile health, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, point-of-care, and automation.

About AACC

Dedicated to achieving better health through laboratory medicine, AACC brings together more than 50,000 clinical laboratory professionals, physicians, research scientists, and business leaders from around the world focused on clinical chemistry, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, translational medicine, lab management, and other areas of progressing laboratory science. Since 1948, AACC has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing programs that advance scientific collaboration, knowledge, expertise, and innovation. For more information, visit