Thursday, December 19, 2013

Technological leaps make multiple, kidney-swapping surgeries more common

Chronic kidney disease affects 26 million American adults, with millions of those affected unaware because there are no symptoms until the disease is severe. When a person’s kidneys fail, they can go on dialysis or try to get a kidney transplant, which provides a better quality of life. The latter options requires that a friend or family member be willing to donate one. Otherwise, they face many years on a waiting list. 

But what if you have a donor who is not a match, which means the donated organ will be rejected by your immune system?  

The answer in Birmingham is UAB’s paired exchange and incompatible transplant programsAnn Marie Reynolds, Gwendolyn Goldsmith and Frank Peters each needed a kidney and had a donor lined up that turned out to be incompatible. The swapping enabling them to be entered into a database that made all participants more likely to get a kidney, and this powerful story by UAB’s Tyler Greer describes their recent three-way transplant surgery.   

Their multiple, living-donor transplant has made it possible for each patient to live free of the constraints of dialysis for what doctors hope will be at least a decade and maybe two. Each of those who donated the kidney did so even though they knew their organ would be going to someone other than their family member or loved one. By the end of 2013, UAB is expected to complete perhaps 30 kidney swap transplants as part of the program.

A team of UAB surgeons, physicians and researchers in UAB’s Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Center has assembled and developed the technologies needed to make the multiple surgeries successful. We thought to talk to one of the UAB surgeons who oversaw the three-way transplant that day, Dr. Jayme Locke, and to ask her about this emerging field and what it means for patients. 

Show notes for the podcast:

1:52  The kidneys filter the blood, divert waste into urine and return useful proteins to the bloodstream. but can be damaged by diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. 

3:00 As diseases progress, the kidneys become less and less able to function until they fail, at which points patients either go on dialysis, a mechanical system that filters the blood, get a kidney transplant or die. 

3:51 The field has shifted over the years from implanting kidneys from a stranger who recently died to organs donated by living people known to the recipient. In the United States there are about 100,000 people waiting for a kidney, but only 10,000 and 15,000 transplants done a year. The need far outweighs the supply, and those who have a family member willing to donate a kidney instead of going on a waiting list (ten-year wait in Alabama for some) has a tremendous advantage.  

5:12 It is important to note that about 35 percent of people who come forward and volunteer to donate a kidney to loved one are found to be incompatible with their would-be recipient. They have a blood type that means the recipient's immune system will immediately attack the donated organ and prevent it from functioning. Another 11 percent of willing donors will be found to be tissue incompatible. So almost half of would be donors cannot donate to their intended recipient. 

6:10  Paired exchange and incompatible transplant programs were born to address this problem, and to make it possible for many to get kidneys that would not otherwise happen.

6:37:  Paired exchange programs started in single hospitals, and now national databases have begun.  At UAB, the list of would be donors and patients is so large that the database locally is effective at making swaps possible in Alabama.

7:37: Ann Marie Reynolds, one of three patients in the transplant swap described above, has had three kidney transplants over the last 25 years. Some patients need more than one transplant because of rejection (sometimes years later) or because a systemic disease comes back in the new organ. Getting a second transplant is more difficult than the first because patients become sensitized. 

8:44 We all have labels on our cells that say self (made of a protein called human leukocyte antigen or HLA). Our immune system looks for this tag and spares self-labelled cells from immune attack, whereas those with other tags like bacteria are targeted. Thus, the goal is to find a transplanted organ made up of cells with an HLA that matches pretty closely with the patient's own tags. In the last ten years, researchers have developed the technology that enables patients to overcome some degree of mismatch if their blood and tissue types are close enough.  

10:30 Dr. Locke discussed the work of UAB's Dr. Roz Mannon, whose specialty is keeping the immune system from attacking a transplanted organ over the long term. While the field has gotten very good at preventing transplant rejection in the first year, gradual damage can cause the organ to fail five years later.

11:10 One approach to preventing long-term rejection, says Dr. Locke, is to find people better blood and tissue matches in donated organs in the first place. By carefully testing the expanded pool of potential donors and recipients in a swapping system, the chances increase that each patient will not only get a kidney, but a better matched kidney.  

11:45 The transplant researcher community also continues to work urgently to improve immunosuppressive medications such that they stop immune attack on a transplanted organ without making patients overly vulnerable to infections. UAB is a national leader in this regard, participating in several, ongoing clinical trials. 

12:57 A unique team at UAB makes multiple swap transplant operations possible. In some cases, six operations are underway at the same time, which requires skilled support by teams of nurses, anesthesiologists, pharmacists, etc., both in preparation and follow up to surgery. This tremendous and coordinated effort by UAB Nursing is led by people like Katie Stegner who runs the operating rooms and Debbie Sparks, the nurse manager on the kidney floor. 

15:35 The living donors that make the swapping system possible are willing to sacrifice part of themselves for their loved ones, a choice that has Dr. Locke's respect. Beyond that are those that chose to donate an organ into the system in honor of a family member or friend, hoping the swap system can give an organ back to that loved one. 

17:28  Dr. Locke would like to see a truly national swapping system develop, one that was not for profit. The huge size of such a database would make a great difference for many more patients in need of transplant. 


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Image post 10: stunning vertebra makes contest list

This image shows a lumbar vertebra from a mouse with its back to the upper-left and its belly to the lower-right. There are muscle fibers in the upper-left corner, cartilage in blue merging into bone in green at the ends of the vertebra, red blood cells in the middle and intestinal contents in orange in the bottom-right corner. The image, which won 13th place in the Nikon Small World Contest, was captured by Dr. Michael Paul Nelson in the Division of Neuropathology, part of the Department of Pathology within the UAB School of Medicine. Dr. Nelson says he created this image, not for a specific research goal, but instead to help him understand aspects of mammalian anatomy. The tissue sample in the image was prepared with a series of dyes and was revealed when Dr. Nelson switched his microscope to fluorescent mode.

When he took the image, Dr. Nelson was attending the Immunohistochemistry and Microscopy Short Course offered by the Histochemical Society at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA. Also credited for the Nikon content entry was Samantha Smith, the representative from Carl Zeiss Microscopy who helped Dr. Nelson with technical aspects of using a Zeiss microscope.