New Breakthrough Makes Kidney Transplants a Lot Easier

Researchers from the Univesity of Cambridge in England have successfully altered the blood types of three donor kidneys in a one-of-a-kind study, the outcome of which will revolutionize kidney transplants. The breakthrough will improve the chances of finding a kidney for a transplant, especially for patients with rare blood types and from minority ethnic groups.

It is hard to find donor kidneys for people with blood types A and B as they cannot accept kidneys from each other but people with either of these blood types can accept a kidney from the universal donor type O. Changing the donor kidney’s blood type with type O will significantly improve the chances of it being donated successfully.

The researchers used a normothermic perfusion machine — a device that connects to a human kidney to pass oxygenated blood through it to preserve it better for future use — to flush blood infused with an enzyme through the deceased donor’s kidney. The enzyme removed the blood type markers that line the blood vessels of the kidney, causing the organ to be converted to the most common type — O.

Serena MacMillan, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, explained,

Our confidence was really boosted after we applied the enzyme to a piece of human kidney tissue and saw very quickly that the antigens were removed. After this, we knew that the process is feasible, and we just had to scale up the project to apply the enzyme to full-size human kidneys. By taking B-type human kidneys and pumping the enzyme through the organ using our normothermic perfusion machine, we saw in a matter of just a few hours that we had converted a B-type kidney into an O type.

“It’s very exciting to think about how this could potentially impact so many lives,” MacMillan remarked.

The researchers must now determine how the newly modified O-type kidney will react to a patient’s usual blood type in their normal blood supply. The machine will facilitate doing this before transplants as it can take kidneys that have been changed to the O type and introduce different blood types to them to see how they react.