Transplant hope for minorities as researchers succeed in altering donor kidney blood | UK News

Researchers have successfully changed the blood type of three donor kidneys – a breakthrough that could increase the supply of kidneys available for transplant, particularly for ethnic minority groups who are less likely to find a match.

A kidney from someone with blood type A cannot be transplanted into someone with blood type B, nor vice versa.

However, changing the blood type to the universal O will allow more transplants to take place, as this can be used for people with any blood type.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge used a normothermic perfusion machine – a device that attaches to a human kidney to pass oxygen-rich blood through the organ to better preserve it for future use – to flush blood infused with an enzyme through the deceased donor kidney.

The enzyme removed the blood type markers that line the blood vessels in the kidneys, causing the organ to be converted to type O.

One person for whom this game-changing discovery has given hope is Ayesha Edmonson, a mother of two from Bury, Greater Manchester.

Edmonson, who was diagnosed with stage three chronic kidney disease in 1998 when she was pregnant with her first child, called the news “brilliant” and a “tremendous breakthrough”.

“It gives us hope to save thousands of lives around the world,” she added.

Edmonson, who used to work in retail, saw her kidneys deteriorate during the period covid-19 lockdown, when she was told she would need a transplant.

Ayesha Edmonson, a mother of two from Bury in Greater Manchester who is waiting for a kidney transplant
Ayesha Edmonson: “No matter how you prepare for news like this – it’s tough”

However, she fears she may have to wait double or even triple the time of a white person, with consultants estimating it could take between six years and a decade.

“A Shock”

According to last year’s NHS Blood and Transplant report, just over 9.2% of total organ donations came from black and ethnic minority donors, while they make up 33% of the kidney transplant waiting list.

“Even though I already knew my condition was coming, it was still a bit of a shock,” Edmonson said, recalling receiving the news.

“Because no matter how much you prepare, when you get news like that it’s tough. It affected me quite a bit mentally.”

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She has recently started volunteering for Kidney Research UK, the charity that funded the Cambridge research.

The project has not reached the clinical trial stage, but is due to be published in the British Journal of Surgery in the coming months.

Serena MacMillan, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, said the research could “potentially impact so many lives”.

“Our confidence was really strengthened after we applied the enzyme to a piece of human kidney tissue and quickly saw that the antigens were removed.

“After this, we knew that the process is feasible, and we just had to scale up the project to use the enzyme for full-sized human kidneys.”

“Redressing the balance”

People from ethnic minority groups often wait a year longer for a transplant than white patients, so the study may have special implications for them, experts say.

Dr Aisling McMahon, chief executive of research at Kidney Research UK, said she hoped the research would “redress the balance” over waiting times.

For Edmonson, whose daily life has become such a struggle because of the disease, the research offers hope for the future.

Undated handout photo issued by Kidney Research UK of Ayesha, from Bury in Greater Manchester, who was diagnosed with stage three chronic kidney disease in 1998 when she was pregnant with her first child.  Her kidneys rapidly deteriorated during the pandemic, and she was told she would need a transplant, but she might have to wait double or even triple the time for a kidney than a white person.

But she also has words in the present, for minorities who are unsure about organ donation because of what she feels is stigma and a lack of awareness.

“People’s religious beliefs play an important role in making life-changing decisions,” she said.

“Even after the law changed, so that everyone was automatically made an organ donor, many decided to opt out (of the scheme), but I would say ‘think again.’

“Because you give someone a chance to live their life normally, to be able to work, to be able to raise a family and to be able to have amazing adventures in life — and you really can’t argue with that.”

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