Kidney transplantation or renal transplantation is the organ transplant of a kidney into a patient with end-stage renal disease. Kidney transplantation is typically classified as deceased-donor (formerly known as cadaveric) or living-donor transplantation depending on the source of the donor organ. Living-donor renal transplants are further characterized as genetically related (living-related) or non-related (living-unrelated) transplants, depending on whether a biological relationship exists between the donor and recipient.
The first cadaveric kidney transplantation in the United States was performed June 17, 1950, on Ruth Tucker, a 44-year-old woman with polycystic kidney disease, at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Illinois. Although the donated kidney was rejected ten months later because no immunosuppressive therapy was available at the time—the development of effective antirejection drugs was years away—the intervening time gave Tucker's remaining kidney time to recover and she lived another five years.
Dr. John P. Merrill (left) explains the workings of a then-new machine called an artificial kidney to Richard Herrick (middle) and his brother Ronald (right). The Herrick twin brothers were the subjects of the world's first successful kidney transplant, Ronald being the donor.
The first kidney transplants between living patients were undertaken in 1954 in Boston and Paris. The Boston transplantation, performed on December 23, 1954, at Brigham Hospital was performed by Joseph Murray, J. Hartwell Harrison, John P. Merrill and others. The procedure was done between identical twins to eliminate any problems of an immune reaction. For this and later work, Dr. Murray received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1990. The recipient died eight years after the transplantation.
The first kidney transplantation in the United Kingdom did not occur until 1960, when Michael Woodruff performed one between identical twins in Edinburgh. Until the routine use of medications to prevent and treat acute rejection, introduced in 1964, deceased donor transplantation was not performed. The kidney was the easiest organ to transplant: tissue typing was simple, the organ was relatively easy to remove and implant, live donors could be used without difficulty, and in the event of failure, kidney dialysis was available from the 1940s. Tissue typing was essential to the success: early attempts in the 1950s on sufferers from Bright's disease had been very unsuccessful.
The major barrier to organ transplantation between genetically non-identical patients lay in the recipient's immune system, which would treat a transplanted kidney as a "non-self" and immediately or chronically, reject it. Thus, having medications to suppress the immune system was essential. However, suppressing an individual's immune system places that individual at greater risk of infection and cancer (particularly skin cancer and lymphoma), in addition to the side effects of the medications.
The basis for most immunosuppressive regimens is prednisolone, a corticosteroid. Prednisolone suppresses the immune system, but its long-term use at high doses causes a multitude of side effects, including glucose intolerance and diabetes, weight gain, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, hypercholesterolemia, and cataract formation. Prednisolone alone is usually inadequate to prevent rejection of a transplanted kidney. Thus other, non-steroid immunosuppressive agents are needed, which also allow lower doses of prednisolone.
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