According to the National Kidney Foundation there were more than 14,000 kidney transplants conducted in the U.S. last year alone. It’s a major surgery that requires an extended period of recovery, but more patients than ever are undergoing a kidney transplant instead of beginning or remaining on dialysis. In recognition of National Kidney Month observed in March, let’s take a look at trends including the rise of kidney swaps and two new exciting studies that could lead to major improvements in transplant patient care.
While dialysis can be a lifesaving treatment for people facing kidney failure, it performs only a small portion of the work a functioning kidney does and can lead to some serious complications including anemia, heart disease and nerve damage.[ii] Research has shown that patients who receive a kidney transplant tend to live longer than those who remain on dialysis, but many patients need to spend time on dialysis until a matching donor organ is available. The rise of kidney swaps where living donors volunteer their kidney in a non-directed way to start a chain of donations has certainly helped with the search for an organ, albeit there is still a large gap between patients on the transplant list versus potential donors in the national kidney registry.
In order to continue to improve patient care and make kidney transplant a more accessible solution, there are plenty of unmet needs to address. These include more effective strategies for limiting organ rejection in order to minimize the costs for lifelong immunosuppressant medications, and the development of non-invasive options for evaluating kidney condition post-transplantation. Two new studies caught our attention this month that may lead to new strategies to address these needs.
First, a study published in a recent issue of American Journal of Transplantation described a new strategy to specifically weaken immune responses that target transplanted tissue.[iii] Researchers at UC San Francisco said their strategy – activating immune cells called donor-reactive effector T cells and then administering a drug called cyclophosphamide known to specifically kill those activated cells – has shown promise in controlled experiments on mice and could spare patients from lifelong immunosuppressive treatments. The second study was reported in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology and found noninvasive urine testing can be used to differentiate common causes of kidney dysfunction, potentially reducing the number of needle biopsies that need to be performed on patients.[iv]
At HelpHOPELive we often work with a startling number of people who have chosen to remain on dialysis for an extended period of time, not because they aren’t interested in a transplant, but because they simply can’t afford the process. Patients who need a transplant may need to travel to specialized treatment centers or even relocate for an extended period of time. Many may need to prove they can afford to pay out-of-pocket fees for lifelong immunosuppressant medications following transplantation. The truth is, even for patients who have medical insurance, a kidney transplant often becomes a financial crisis if they are not able to raise funds through community support. We were founded by a transplant surgeon in 1983 who wanted to help more patients have access to transplant procedures. To date the funds raised through our organization have helped more than 2,300 patients receive an organ transplant. Your support for HelpHOPELive can help many patients and their families address the challenges they face when a kidney transplant is needed.
[i] National Kidney Foundation. “Organ Donation and Transplantation Statistics.” January 8, 2014. https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/factsheets/Organ-Donation-and-Transplantation-Stats.cfm.
[ii] Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The Benefits of Transplant versus Dialysis.” Accessed March 19, 2014. http://www.bidmc.org/Centers-and-Departments/Departments/Transplant-Institute/Kidney/The-Benefits-of-Transplant-versus-Dialysis.aspx.
[iii] University of California, San Francisco. Infection Control Today. “New Organ Transplant Strategy Aims to Better Prevent Rejection.” March 5, 2014. http://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/news/2014/03/new-organ-transplant-strategy-aims-to-better-prevent-rejection.aspx.
[iv] Yard, Delicia Honen. Renal & Urology News. “Urine Test IDs Cause of Post-Transplant Kidney Problems.” March 11, 2014. http://www.renalandurologynews.com/urine-test-ids-cause-of-post-transplant-kidney-problems/article/337494/.