Of the 120,000 people who need organ transplants, 80 percent of them need a kidney. And the lists keep growing with 3,000 new patients every month, while synthetic organs, while showing promise, are still years away. Unfortunately, sometimes even a kidney of the same blood type can’t be transplanted, as the host’s immune system will destroy it. A new study, though, might make it possible to transplant any kidney to any recipient.
The process of adapting the immune system, called “desensitization,” is oddly similar to dialysis. A patient’s blood is filtered of their antibodies and new ones are infused into their system. When the host’s antibodies regenerate, their antibodies are less likely to attack the transplanted kidney. If rejection is still a concern, they can pick off the new antibodies before transplanting the organ.
Why, precisely, these new antibodies won’t attack a transplanted kidney isn’t clear, and determining why will be a topic of increasing focus. This procedure has also shown promise with liver transplants, and might be possible with lung transplants. And even with an organ, there’s still the staggering cost of transplanting a kidney, which, with this procedure, can easily clear $130,000. On the other hand, dialysis costs thousands a year and is a lifetime procedure that arguably offers little quality of life beyond survival.
The technique still needs to go through several legal hurdles before it’s approved. But this study proves it works, and if it becomes widely available, might finally offer a way through a deadly illness for many.
(Via the New York Times)