Australian and American researchers have identified several genes that hold the key to determining the future outcome of a kidney transplant, in what has been described as a landmark breakthrough in medical research.
Genes predictive of poor kidney function in future were identified by researchers
Experts say knowing likely outcome of transplant will allow for planning and better patient care
Researchers about fives years away from clinical trials
Experts at Sydney’s Westmead Institute and New York’s Mount Sinai Medical School have isolated 13 genes that can predict whether patients are at risk of organ damage after a kidney transplant.
The lead author of the study published in The Lancet medical journal, Professor Philip O’Connell, said the discovery meant people could get treatment before irreversible damage had occurred.
“It we get people a transplant, and get that transplant to live longer, then we have less people on dialysis, less people suffering from vascular disease … and people with a better quality of life,” he said.
The researchers used genomic sequencing to test 40,000 genes from biopsies of transplanted kidneys.
They compared the gene regulation between people who had normal kidney function after a transplant, and people who showed signs of organ failure.
Using a series of complex mathematical equations, they then managed to identify 13 genes that were predictive of poor kidney function in the future.
In a comment piece also published in The Lancet, Dr James Hutchinson from Germany’s Regensburg University Hospital, described it as a landmark piece of research.
“Knowing the likely future outcome of a kidney transplant is a major advance, which should allow transplant nephrologists to plan … and provide better care and counsel to their patients,” Dr Hutchinson wrote.
Sydney social worker Frances Zammit, 43, described the breakthrough as a miracle.
She was just 27 when her kidneys stopped working, after she was born with congenital defects.
She spent seven years on dialysis until she finally got a transplant in 2008 but her elation was short lived.
“The kidney just never woke up and it never functioned properly, so nine months later the kidney came out and I was back on the list,” Ms Zammit said.
She received a new kidney last December but said she lived in fear it could fail as well.
“As life shows you all the time things don’t go to plan and things do happen and it’s not all in your control.”
Ms Zammit said she hoped the research meant she would never need another transplant.
“Kidneys don’t come along every day, and they’re such a special gift… a miracle,” she said.
“[The research] is a second miracle, pretty much.”
Researchers said they were still about five years away from using the genetic tests in clinical trials.
If they are successful, it could be a game changer for the 10,000 Australians living with a transplanted kidney, and the almost 1,100 on waiting lists.