Game-changing' new technique in kidney transplants could help ethnic minorities get help faster

Posted August 17, 2022

Source: Newshub - 16 August 2022, Te Rina Kowhai

A new technique described as potentially "game-changing" in kidney transplants has been developed by scientists from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

It could assist with Māori and Pacific peoples, who are less likely to receive a kidney transplant here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It involves successfully altering the blood type of donor kidneys, which may shorten the wait times for patients to get a new organ.

A kidney from someone with blood type A cannot be transplanted to someone with blood type B, and vice versa. But now scientists have found they can use an enzyme to alter the kidney to a universal O type, potentially allowing it to be used for any patient waiting for a transplant.

"A transplant is often the best form of treatment and actually it should be the first treatment and they shouldn't have to go on to dialysis, which is onerous and takes a toll on the patient's physical, emotional wellbeing," said Neerja Jain, health equalities programme manager at Kidney Research UK.

This breakthrough is especially important for ethnic minorities, who end up waiting longer for a compatible donor.

In Aotearoa, Māori and Pacific peoples are over-represented in the dialysis population and are less likely than others to receive a kidney transplant. 

The new method is welcomed by nephrologist Dr Curtis Walker.

"We can already do those kinds of kidney transplants in New Zealand at the moment, but they sort of need several days of preparation," he said.

"So what this might do is allow a few more kidneys to be transplanted, so in the middle of urgent transplant rather than planned transplant, and in that sense may make a few more kidneys available for Māori and Pasifika."

In the last five years, seven Māori patients have been provided with a preemptive kidney transplant compared with 125 non-Māori and non-Pasifika patients. Only one Māori patient received a preemptive kidney transplant in 2019.

Dr Walker said the health system is generally failing Māori.

"There are a whole lot of factors in our health system that we have."

It's hoped this new technique could be one way to address that.


Preparing a healthy kidney for transplant