A revolutionary new procedure could increase the success rate and longevity of kidney transplants, offering hope to thousands of renal patients.
Flushing donor kidneys with oxygenated blood prior to a transplant could reverse the damage done to the organs when they are stored at low temperatures during transportation.
The procedure could also slash waiting lists, as it would enable more organs from marginal donors to be used for transplantation, thus increasing the number of kidneys available.
The research has led to the development of a process called normothermic perfusion, a form of resuscitation that allows doctors to improve the quality of kidneys taken from deceased donors.
As kidneys that function well early on have been proven to last longer, the treatment could not only reduce rejection rates but also increase the lifespan of transplanted kidneys, which is currently around 10 to 15 years.
Professor Mike Nicholson, lead researcher for Kidney Research UK and based at Leicester University, said: “Normothermic perfusion allows us to gradually reintroduce blood flow to donor kidneys outside of the body and in a controlled way.
“This reverses much of the damage caused by cold storage, while offering us a unique opportunity to treat the organs with anti-inflammatory agents and other drugs before going on to complete the transplant procedure.
“In short, we’re able repair and revive damaged kidneys in a way that would otherwise be impossible.”
Cutting waiting lists could have a significant impact on NHS, which currently spends £3.66bn on kidney failure treatment.
Charles Kernahan, Chief Executive of Kidney Research UK, said: “This project represents a major step in the fight against kidney disease. Although transplantation is by no means a cure for kidney failure, it is by far the best treatment method available to us at this time.
“In developing a process that not only maximises the quality of kidneys taken from marginal donors but could also lead to hundreds more transplants being carried out each year, our researchers have given fresh hope to the 7,000 people in the UK currently waiting for a kidney.”
The new findings were announced by Kidney Research UK to tie in with World Kidney Day, which raises awareness of the importance of healthy kidneys.