What is HLA Lab and Why is it So Important?

The Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics Laboratory, commonly known as the “HLA” lab, is a historic contributor to organ and bone marrow transplantation through the science of immunology and the latest technology in genetics and flow cytometry.  HLA stands for ‘Human Leukocyte Antigen’ – more on that later. 

Simply put, the HLA lab is responsible for several functions that reduce the likelihood of organ rejection, two of which are the “Tissue Typing” of the donors, and the “HLA Antibody Analysis” of the recipients.  Along with the ABO blood type, these two facets make up the bulk of the organ compatibility formula.  For example, a transplant should not occur between a donor organ with an HLA typing of ‘x’ if the recipient has an antibody to ‘x’ – that combination is at high risk for rejection.  Conversely, if that organ is HLA type ‘y’, and the patient has only antibody to ‘x’, then they are presumed compatible.    

When the organ is offered, the HLA Lab evaluates the interaction of donor’s white cells (leukocytes) with the recipient’s blood and gauges the reactivity just prior to transplant surgery.  You could say these donor white cells are the ‘stunt-double’ for the offered organ, and the blood of the recipient is the ‘stunt-double’ for the recipient’s body.  How those two ‘stunt men’ interact is a strong predictor of rejection:  if they play nice, then we expect longevity; if they’re hostile, then we expect rejection.  Transplant does not occur unless they play nice.

Our team is made up of four scientists who hold certifications from the American Board for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics. We’re passionate about helping our patients and are fortunate to be so hands-on with them and their healthcare providers in the mission to make sure we provide the best science possible to greatly reduce their risk of rejection.  Our scientists garner great satisfaction from the constant puzzle that is HLA testing, antibodies, and donor offers. There are plenty of grey areas that only the experience and expertise of this very talented team of HLA technologists can shed light on for our community of healthcare providers.  It is our pleasure to serve the Willis-Knighton transplant community.