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‘Game-changing’ breakthrough for organ transplants as scientists alter blood style of donor kidney

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‘Game-changing’ breakthrough for organ transplants as scientists alter blood style of donor kidney in move that could possibly be boost for waiting list patients

  • Breakthrough allows donor kidneys to be altered to universal O blood type 
  • A and B blood types can’t be transplanted to at least one one other currently
  • Problem is very acute for ethnic minority groups – more prone to be B-type 
  • Ethnic minority groups often wait a 12 months longer than white patients

Scientists have altered the blood style of donor kidneys in a ‘game-changing’ discovery that might boost the organ transplant supply.

Kidneys from patients with an A blood type cannot currently be transplanted to those with a B blood type, nor the opposite way around. This implies many patients are left waiting for a match.

The issue is very acute for ethnic minority groups, who usually tend to have B-type blood.

Donation rates from these populations are low, so there should not enough kidneys to go round.

But scientists have worked out methods to convert kidneys to the universal O blood type, which can allow more transplants to happen.

Researchers used a normothermic perfusion machine, which normally passes oxygenated blood through a donor kidney to preserve it. 

Professor Mike Nicholson of the University of Cambridge is one scientist chargeable for the breakthrough. Pictured: Professor Nicholson working on a perfusing kidney which could increase availability of transplants

The game-changing discovery allows organs to be converted to O-type blood which can be used for patients of any blood type

The sport-changing discovery allows organs to be converted to O-type blood which will be used for patients of any blood type

Nevertheless, they used the device to flush blood infused with an enzyme through three kidneys to remove the blood-type markers, or antigens, that line the blood vessels.

Consequently, the organs were converted to O-type blood, which will be used for patients of any blood type. 

 This might impact so many lives

 PhD student Serena MacMillan

The breakthrough is the work of Professor Mike Nicholson, professor of transplant surgery on the University of Cambridge, and PhD student Serena MacMillan.

Miss MacMillan said: ‘Our confidence was really boosted after we applied the enzyme to a bit of human kidney tissue and saw quickly that the antigens were removed. After this, we knew that the method is possible and we just needed to scale up the project to use the enzyme to full-size human kidneys.

PhD student Serena MacMillan (above) is also responsible for the breakthrough and is excited to see how this could potentially impact 'so many lives'

PhD student Serena MacMillan (above) can also be chargeable for the breakthrough and is worked up to see how this might potentially impact ‘so many lives’

‘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 number of hours that we had converted a B-type kidney into an O type. It’s very exciting to take into consideration how this might potentially impact so many lives.’

People from ethnic minority groups often wait a 12 months longer for a transplant than white patients, so this might help them most. Last 12 months, just over 9 per cent of total organ donations got here from black and minority ethnic donors – patients from these groups make up 33 per cent of the kidney transplant waiting list.

Dr Aisling McMahon, of Kidney Research UK, said: ‘The research that Mike and Serena are undertaking is potentially game-changing.’

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