There’s a discouragingly long list of problems for patients who suffer kidney failure but one of the worst of those problems might have just been solved. In a revolutionary new study published this week, doctors have found a way around the principle problem of organ transplants: rejection by the body’s immune system.
For patients suffering the physical and mental agony of waiting for a new kidney, this new development has the potential to be life-changing.
The big problem with kidney transplantation
There are a lot of intractable issues when it comes to organ transplantation…not the least of which is rejection by the host body’s immune system. Our immune systems are designed to keep foreign objects out, of course. As a result, whenever doctors transplant organs, it’s a tense wait-and-see. Will the body keep the new organ or reject it?
Around half the people waiting for a kidney transplant have immune systems that will attack any new organ, causing the transplant procedure to be a risky game of chance. What’s worse: of those problematic immune systems, around 20% are so picky there are almost no chance doctors will ever find a kidney that will be accepted.
New antibody-suppression technique fixes that problem.
Doctors have a way to get host bodies to accept a wider range of transplanted kidneys. It involves suppressing the body’s natural antibodies so the new kidney has a chance of surviving.
In the study, which took place over 8 years, patients who chose to undergo the suppression procedure were more likely to be alive after 8 years. Those who chose to wait around for a perfectly matched kidney were less likely to still be alive.
Transplantation is worlds better than dialysis.
The results of this study mean life-transforming improvements for kidney patients.
Too many people with kidney failure simply give up on waiting around for a transplant. After learning they have ultra-temperamental immune systems which would reject just about any kidney doctors tried to transplant, they take themselves off the waiting lists for new kidneys.
Of course, they do this with great reluctance and sadness. The alternative is dialysis, which saves lives but also changes them for the worse. If you know anything about life on dialysis, you know this is definitely a distant second choice option.
- Dialysis ties the patient to a difficult life of regular appointments at a dialysis center, making any sort of normal life hard to achieve.
- Dialysis causes bloating.
- You slowly lose the ability to urinate on your own.
- Your ability to take in liquids is severely limited.
- For children on dialysis, growth can become stunted.
- The cost of dialysis is skyrocketing.
- As a nation, we spend over $40 billion per year in public and private funds on treating kidney patients on dialysis.
- Transplantation saves money, too, slashing costs by two-thirds over dialysis.
Compare a lifetime of all that to the normal, healthy lives of kidney patients who undergo successful transplantation surgery.
The new procedure: how does it work?
So, what made the “incompatible” kidneys compatible all of a sudden? The answer lies in a new procedure that manipulates the anti-HLA antibodies in the host body.
The organ-rejecting antibodies are basically stripped out of the blood, and newer, more “accepting” antibodies are produced. Essentially, the patient’s body is encouraged to make new, better antibodies that won’t reject a new kidney.
The patient’s blood is filtered to remove antibodies and then supplemented with other antibodies. That ensures at least a minimal level of protection until the body can make more antibodies. Those newly generated antibodies are less likely to attack the new kidney.
Just in case some “picky” antibodies are still being produced, there’s a drug to wipe them out. It works by attacking the white blood cells that make the harsh antibodies that cause organ rejection, thus allowing a transplanted kidney to survive and thrive.
Over a thousand people in the study chose to undergo this new treatment, and as a group, their survival rates where higher than those who waited for a match.
That means patients don’t have to wait around for a perfectly matched kidney. They can conceivably now accept a “mismatch”.
As one of the commenting doctors in the study noted, the implications for kidney patients are nothing short of revolutionary. Patients on organ waiting lists can now hope for more, rather than relying on luck and prayer for a matched kidney to come their way.