A new breakthrough method is changing kidney's blood type to make transplants easier

Kidney patients will not have to wait any longer.
Nergis Firtina
Mike Nicholson

Kidney Research UK  

  • Researchers succeeded in altering the blood type of deceased donor kidneys using “molecular scissors.”
  • Universal "type O" blood will be given to any patient.
  • The breakthrough will also be hope for patients who are waiting for a suitable kidney.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge achieved altering the blood type of donor kidneys. According to the University of Cambridge's release, This development will be life-saving for patients waiting for a suitable kidney.

The project, funded by charity Kidney Research UK, could increase the supply of kidneys available for transplant, particularly within ethnic minority groups who are less likely to be a match for the majority of donated kidneys.

For instance, a kidney from someone with blood type A cannot be given to someone with another blood type. However, by changing the blood type of a kidney to the universal O-type, the kidney can now be transplanted into any patient.

Professor Mike Nicholson and Ph.D. student Serena MacMillan used a normothermic perfusion machine – a device that connects with a human kidney to pass oxygenated blood through the organ to better preserve it for future use – to flush blood infused with an enzyme through the deceased kidney.

“Our confidence was boosted after we applied the enzyme to a piece of human kidney tissue and saw very quickly that the antigens were removed," said MacMillan.

"After this, we knew that the process is feasible, and we just had to scale up the project to apply the enzyme to full-size human kidneys. By taking B-type human kidneys and pumping the enzyme through the organ using our normothermic prefusion machine, we saw in a matter of just a few hours that we had converted a B-type kidney into an O-type.”

Serena MacMillan
Kidney Research UK 

People from ethnic groups wait longer

As the University of Cambridge cites, people from ethnic groups wait for kidney transplants much longer than Caucasians. It is because the minority groups generally have B-type blood, and this situation prevents them from getting a kidney from Caucasians who generally have A-type blood.

In 2020/21, just over 9% of total organ donations came from black and minority ethnic donors, whilst black and minority ethnic patients make up 33% of the kidney transplant waiting list. The Cambridge team now needs to see how the newly changed O-type kidney will react to a patient’s usual blood type in their normal blood supply.

“One of the biggest restrictions to who a donated kidney can be transplanted to is the fact that you have to be blood group compatible," said Nicholson, professor of transplant surgery."

"The reason for this is that you have antigens and markers on your cells that can be either A or B. Your body naturally produces antibodies against the ones you don't have."

"Blood group classification is also determined via ethnicity and ethnic minority groups are more likely to have the rarer B type. After successfully shifting blood group to the universal O type, we now need to look at whether our methods can be successful in a clinical setting and ultimately carried through to transplantation.”

"The research is game-changing"

Dr. Aisling McMahon, executive director of research at Kidney Research UK, said, “The research that Mike and Serena are undertaking is potentially game-changing. It is incredibly impressive to see the progress that the team has made in such a short space of time, and we are excited to see the next steps."

"As an organisation, we are committed to funding research that transforms treatments and tackles health inequalities. We know that people from minority ethnic groups can wait much longer for a transplant as they are less likely to be a blood-type match with the organs available. This research offers a glimmer of hope to over 1,000 people from minority ethnic groups who are waiting for a kidney,” McMahon said.

The full paper on Prof. Mike Nicholson and Ph.D. student Serena MacMillan’s work is set to be published in the British Journal of Surgery in the coming months.

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