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Looking back at 2022: our top research stories

10 January 2023

2022 has seen some of our most important research to date, with our scientists working harder than ever to improve the lives of people living with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Here we share our most popular research stories from last year.

Understanding medication-taking behaviours in kidney transplant recipients

Dr Antonia Cronin from King’s College London 

Kidney transplants are lifesaving, however require patients to take life-long medications to stop their new kidney from being rejected, and some individuals struggle to take their treatments correctly. There has been little research into the reasons for this, but beliefs about kidney transplants and medication, mental health and health inequalities may play a role.

We awarded Antonia a grant for PhD student Rosie Heape to explore the factors affecting how well transplant patients take their medication in May 2022. Rosie and Antonia aim to develop an intervention tool to support patients and make sure they get the full benefits of their medications.

This research will improve our understanding of factors affecting medication-taking behaviour in kidney patients and help identify patients that may potentially struggle. It will also help to develop ways for healthcare professionals to provide patients with information and techniques to support them with the challenges associated with taking life-long medication.

Dr Antonia Cronin from King’s College London
Dr Antonia Cronin from King’s College London

Improving assessment criteria of transplant kidneys

Joanne Devlin, a PhD student and Mr John Asher, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow.

May also saw us reporting on how current techniques to assess donor kidneys can be improved, potentially allowing a wider range of kidneys to be safely transplanted.

Joanne Devlin, working with consultant transplant surgeon Mr John Asher, believes that additional assessments can be done to increase confidence in the quality of donor kidneys. With the support of a grant from Kidney Research UK, Joanne is looking at how adding new imaging techniques and measurement of biomarkers of cellular injury to the current approach to help accurately score of the quality of borderline kidneys. This could help clinicians make decisions on whether to transplant a kidney that would have otherwise been discarded.  

Read Sanjay's story to learn more about how this research breakthrough could make a real difference to the lives of those waiting for kidney transplant. 

Joanne Devlin
Joanne Devlin, PhD student

Understanding transplant rejection

Dr Rhys Evans, University College London

In July 2022, we shared news of a new project to find out whether how much salt you eat might impact the chances of rejecting a new kidney. Dr Rhys Evans is going to take transplant recipients’ white blood cells and test them in the lab to see if higher levels of salt increases behaviour in the cells that is associated with transplant rejection. He will then work with patients by placing them on a low salt diet along with a tablet that should decrease the amount of salt in their blood to see if the white blood cells have changed in a way that should reduce the risk of rejection.  

Dr Evans hopes that by increasing our understanding of how rejection works we can increase the functional lifespan of a transplanted kidney. Depending on how effective a low salt diet is, it could even mean a reduction in the amount of medicine transplant recipients have to take to protect their new kidney.  

Read Paul’s story to learn more about the impact on patients when a transplant fails. 

Dr Rhys Evans
Dr Rhys Evans

Transplant hope for minorities as researchers change kidney blood type

Professor Mike Nicholson and PhD student Serena MacMillan, University of Cambridge

Kidney Research UK-funded researchers at the University of Cambridge successfully altered the blood type of three deceased donor kidneys, with results shared in August 2022. This ground-breaking discovery could increase the supply of kidneys available for transplant, particularly for ethnic minority groups who are less likely to be a match for donated kidneys. 

Professor Mike Nicholson and PhD student Serena MacMillan used an enzyme to target blood type markers from donated kidneys, successfully removing them from the blood vessels of the kidney. This resulted in the kidneys being changed to the most common ‘O’ blood type.  A kidney from someone with an A blood type cannot be transplanted to someone with a B blood type, nor the other way around. By changing the blood type to the universal O, more transplants will be possible, as O can be used for people with any blood group.   

The project builds on previous research led by Professor Mike Nicholson, also funded by Kidney Research UK.

Serena Macmillan in the lab
Serena MacMillan, PhD student at The University of Cambridge

“Gift of time” could enable nearly 100 more kidney transplants each year

Dr John Stone and Professor James Fildes, Pebble Biotechnology Laboratories in Alderley Park, Macclesfield 

In September, we shared further crucial work to increase the number of kidneys available for transplantation in the UK each year. Inspired by his nephew Luke, who had a transplant early in 2022, Dr John Stone has first-hand experience of how precious each donated kidney is. Working with Professor James Fildes, supported by a research grant from Kidney Research UK, they have made considerable progress in keeping retrieved kidneys viable for longer. 

The standard method for storing a kidney for donation is cold storage, but the longer the organ is on ice, the greater the chances of damage to the kidney. Using a technique called ‘normothermic perfusion’, in which oxygenated blood is pumped through a donated kidney, the team hope to extend the length of time that donor kidneys can be stored for from less than three hours to days.  

Dr John Stone at Pebble Biotechnology Laboratories in Macclesfield
Dr John Stone at Pebble Biotechnology Laboratories in Macclesfield

Jo Pywell, Research unit manager at Kidney Research UK commented: "This year’s research has shown enormous progress and potential and we are delighted to have supported these, and many other, researchers in 2022. Despite these fantastic achievements there is still a huge amount of work needed in kidney disease and we are committed to driving this forward."

We will shortly be announcing the results of our latest grants award programme, keep an eye on our new grants section.

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