Kidney failure occurs frequently in the United States and is primarily caused by poorly controlled diabetes or high blood pressure. Treatment for kidney failure include both dialysis and organ transplantation. Dialysis is an intensive regime of treatments three times per week designed to clean and filter the blood. The initial cost for organ failure in the first year is around $80,000 and the costs for dialysis terwards are around $70,000 per year.
Kidney transplantation has increased in the United States. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 16,901 procedures were performed in the United States in 2010, compared with 16,634 in 2007.Kidney transplants are commonplace in the USA and while they do improve the quality of life for someone in renal failure, they are no walk in the park either. The procedure carries with it a lifelong regime of drugs that have to be taken to help prevent rejection of the transplanted organ.
Recently, scientists have developed a novel stem cell therapy that is administered right after transplant surgery. This new therapy allows some transplant recipients to avoid taking the immunosuppressant drugs that most have to take. The New England Journal of Medicine reports data on 12 patients that received a kidney from a perfect matching donor. Eight of the twelve patients were given the new stem cell therapy and have been off the medication for at least one year and some as much as three.
The new therapy is a combination of radiation, stem cells and antibodies. The therapy is given post transplantation of the new organ. The new recipient receives radiation to the lymph nodes, spleen and thymus gland as well as administration of the antibodies to weaken the immune system.
Ten days later, the stem cells (hematopoietic progenitor cells) are administered. These cells form blood and immune cells and are infused on an outpatient basis. The stem cells eventually join with the immune system making the donor kidney more compatible with the host body. A few immunosuppressive drugs are given at first, but the patient is quickly taken off of them. The goal was to eliminate the immunosuppressive drugs from the mix and to allow the patient to keep the kidney as well. So far, eight of study patients still have their kidneys and they function well.
The research holds promise for improving more lives down the road. The problem of keeping people on immune-suppressing drugs is very significant. The fact that using stem cells as a way to overcome that is creatively sound science. If you just think about what these patients go through, they have had so much to deal with already. Considering dialysis, waiting for a transplant and getting to resume life without the constant drugs is a step towards a working solution for all transplant patients.