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Changing the way we transplant kidneys with normothermic perfusion

Over £850,000 in funding from Kidney Research UK has enabled Professor Mike Nicholson to develop and test a new technique to revolutionise the way kidney transplant operations are done.

The first project to be funded through our Making Every Kidney Count Appeal is being led by Professor Nicholson, who is taking his revolutionary technique to the next level with a clinical trial across four hospitals

Today, if your kidney fails and you need a transplant, you join a waiting list of over 5,000 people. A staggering 80 per cent of the transplant waiting list are waiting for a kidney. With around 3,000 kidney transplants being carried out each year, there are not enough viable kidneys available. Every week, five people die waiting for a kidney.

Of the people who are lucky enough to get a kidney, half experience problems with it that could affect the transplant’s long-term success.

Our funding allowed Professor Mike Nicholson and his team to develop a pioneering technique called normothermic perfusion. A less technical term for this is 'warm perfusion'.

What is normothermic/'warm' perfusion?

Before transplantation, the donor kidney is connected to a machine that flushes the organ with oxygenated blood. This does three things:

  • it revives the kidney and repairs much of the damage caused by cold storage
  • it allows anti-inflammatory agents and other drugs to be pumped through, priming the kidney for the best chance of transplant success
  • it allows doctors to check the viability of the organ. At the moment, if there are any doubts about the viability of a kidney, it is discarded – this happens to as many as half of all potential donor kidneys. By allowing doctors to test kidney function before transplantation, normothermic perfusion will make many more donor kidneys available.
Mike Nicholson, Normothermic Perfusion

The future for kidney transplant patients

One day, this research could mean that hundreds more patients every year get the call they’ve been desperately waiting for, to say that a donor kidney has become available.

Reducing the transplant waiting list would also have major positive benefits for the NHS, which spends £1.5 billion on treating kidney failure every year.

Professor Nicholson comments “In order to advance the technique we would need to apply it to many more kidneys. We’ve currently transplanted about seventy after normothermic perfusion across four centres, and we want to do several hundred. All medical research is very expensive and requires funding. We’ve already spent several hundred thousand pounds developing the technique, so what we need now is to generate more funding, more money to support developing the technique that we can introduce it into other centres around the country.”

Professor Nicholson further comments on his hope for the future.

“I hope the future will be that kidneys will be preserved using normothermic perfusion. This will increase the quality of the kidneys and hopefully give us more kidneys to transplant. The really exciting thing for the future is that we may be able to manipulate a kidney before its transplanted, dramatically reducing the chances of it being rejected. This will improve the long term survival of kidneys compared to what we currently have.”

Deborah Bakewell with grandchildren

What it means to patients

Deborah Bakewell was the first person in the world to receive a kidney transplant using normothermic perfusion.

Reviewed April 2019

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