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Can stem cells help us improve the condition of donor kidneys?

14 February 2024

Dr Sarah Hosgood from the University of Cambridge has received a Kidney Research UK research project grant of £114,000 to investigate whether stem cells from the urine of premature babies could be used to improve the condition of kidneys from older donors for transplant. 

The problem with transplantation

Kidney transplant is usually the best treatment for patients with kidney failure. However, the huge demand for transplantation and shortage of organ donors means that patients wait an average of three years for a transplant. Unfortunately, many patients become too ill for surgery during this wait and have to be removed from the transplant list.  

More than a third of transplanted kidneys come from donors over the age of 60. Kidneys from older donors are less able to recover their function after transplant, and also survive for considerably shorter time than kidneys from young donors. Improving the condition of kidneys from older donors could both increase the pool of kidneys available for transplant, and make the transplanted kidneys work better for longer. 

Female with bobbed blonde hair looking side on
Dr Sarah Hosgood

The solution to improve the condition of donor kidneys

Stem cell therapy uses special cells to repair or replace damaged tissues. There are many different types of stem cells that can be found in different parts of the body, including the blood, bone marrow, and fatty tissue. A new type of stem cell called ‘neonatal stem cells’ has been discovered. These cells can be collected from the urine of premature babies (with the consent of the parents), and they can develop into working kidney cells. 

Sarah and the team have done an initial study with the University of Leuven where they used normothermic perfusion (a technique pioneered with our funding by Sarah and Professor Mike Nicholson) to deliver neonatal stem cells to human kidneys that had been donated for research. This study showed that neonatal stem cells helped to start off regeneration processes in the treated kidneys. 

Building on this, Sarah and the team will now look at how well neonatal stem cells repair and regenerate kidney cells in donated kidneys in greater detail and over a longer period.  

What this could mean for patients

Normothermic machine perfusion allows the kidney to be treated before transplant and closely monitored before it is used. Giving neonatal stem cells in this way could help to improve the condition of kidneys from older deceased donors to ensure that more are available for transplant, and that they work better and last longer.  

“This project grant from Kidney Research UK provides us with a tremendous opportunity to advance our research and use stem cells from the urine of premature babies to repair kidneys from older donors. The funding will allow us to administer the cells to human kidneys during a period of perfusion in the lab. We will be able to examine how effective the cells are and if they can improve kidney function. This research could lead to improved outcomes for kidney transplant patients by providing them with better quality organs that last longer. Without funding from Kidney Research UK this research would not be possible.” Dr Sarah Hosgood

Subnormothermic machine perfusion
Subnormothermic machine perfusion

Please note: We'd like to make our supporters aware that all samples donated to Sarah are collected painlessly and with the full consent of the parents.

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