Circulating fluid keeps donated kidneys healthier

By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - Machines that send fluid circulating through a donated kidney while it is being preserved for transplant keep the organ healthier than the standard method of simply immersing it in fluid and transporting it on ice, doctors reported on Wednesday.

The study, the first large-scale international comparison of the two preservation methods, found that while more than a quarter of the 336 kidneys shipped in cold storage failed to work properly right away, only 20.8 percent of machine-preserved kidneys failed.

That translates into a 43 percent reduction in failure after adjusting for a host of factors.

Kidneys transported in the fluid-circulating machine were 48 percent less likely to fail within one year, said Dr. Rutger Ploeg of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who led the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The function is much better in those kidneys that have been machine-preserved and the rejection rate and failure rate at one year is lower in the machine-preserved ones,” Ploeg said.

“So it’s better immediate function, longer function, and better quality of life because patients keep their kidneys and don’t have to go back on dialysis.”

Organ Recovery Systems, a division of privately held Lifeline Scientific Inc. in Chicago, donated the 62-pound (28-kg) LifePort devices used to keep preservative solution circulating through the organ at a close to freezing temperature.

In the United States alone about 82,000 people are awaiting a kidney transplant and just over 4,000 were done this year.

The LifePort device is costlier than putting a kidney on ice in a nutrient solution and closing it up in a cooler. The company declined to say how much an individual unit cost.

The new study did not assess costs, but Ploeg said an in-depth analysis, which takes into account factors such as the extra expense of caring for a patient whose kidney has failed because it was transported by conventional cold storage, shows that machine perfusion saves money over the first year and over the long run.

According to the company, the LifePort transporters have been used for more than 12,000 kidney transplants worldwide since they were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003.

Most have been in the United States, where the big transplant centers used them. They are seldom used in Europe.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman)

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