Two days ago a medical breakthrough has been reported that is likely to save lives. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have announced that they have successfully changed the blood type of a donor kidney. This means that patients with a rare blood type will now be able to receive donor organs. The process of changing the blood type of a donor organ is still in its early stages, but the potential implications are huge. This could potentially mean that patients who were previously unable to receive organs due to their blood type or faced heavy delays, will now be able to do so.
The trial of the new technique was executed successfully three times so far. They used a medical device called a normothermic perfusion machine which passes oxygenated blood through the kidney in order to preserve it for longer. For this particular use, they infused the blood in the artificial bloodstream with a special enzyme that would then remove blood type markers and turn the organ to the most common O type, which has much higher compatibility. They describe this enzyme’s work as acting as a “molecular scissor”.
Why is that important and useful?
The way how blood types restrict us from organ donations works like this. You can’t give an organ from a donator with blood type A to a patient with blood type B. Equally you can’t do it the other way around either. The reason why this happens is that there would be antibodies “fighting” a blood type that is not compatible. Often patients with a rare blood type have to wait a year to get an organ with the right blood type. However, organs with the blood type O can be accepted by any other blood type and if this is now no longer a fixed fact, we can better help people who are in need of a donator organ and the blood type compatibility is less of a hurdle.
Blood type and donor organ facts and figures
The report from Cambridge University states, “People from minority communities are more likely to have B type blood and with current low donation rates from these populations, there are simply not enough kidneys to go around. 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.” On top of the natural hurdles that we have to accept as a given, there are also cultural challenges that add to the issue of not having sufficient organ donations from all types of people. Depending on one’s beliefs, they might simply don’t want to donate an organ or their religion defines that for them.
A particular case that was mentioned in the report was the condition of Ayesha and that despite her being in need of a donator organ, her blood type makes it hard to find a matching one. Experts estimated a waiting time for a suitable kidney could be up to ten years. Ayesha shares, “They explained that because of my ethnicity my wait for a deceased donor will be longer than for a white person. The reason being my background – being the Muslim community and other faiths and cultures often don’t agree to be organ donors. […} I feel sad at the thought of waiting so long for a transplant, I understand a transplant isn’t a cure, but it would make my body a lot stronger and give me a second chance at a healthy life.”
Hopefully, Ayesha will receive her second chance. It’s good to see that science never stops working to make everyone’s lives better and giving people better chances to stay healthy and maybe even recover from some conditions.
YouTube: Why do blood types matter? – Natalie S. Hodge