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New Technique Prevents Kidney Rejection

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About 52,000 people in the United States are on waiting lists for kidney transplants, and about 60,000 Americans die each year from end-stage renal disease. Though the number of cadavers available for transplants has remained steady over the past decade, the number of live donors has increased dramatically. In 2000, slightly more than 5,200 live donor kidney transplants were performed, compared with 1,800 in 1988.

The plasmapheresis technique may also be useful in patients undergoing heart, lung, and pancreas transplants, Montgomery says. Early studies in these areas appear promising.

Kidney specialist Leslie Spry, MD, says the results presented by the Johns Hopkins researchers look impressive. He agrees that the procedure could represent a significant advance. A spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation, Spry practices in Lincoln, Neb.

"When a transplant patient has an incompatibility with a donor, it is like waving a red flag at a bull as far as the immune system is concerned," he says. "The immune system will gear up and kill the kidney. But these researchers seem to have found a way to keep the immune system from attacking."

But he warns that the risk of organ rejection has not been established with the protocol, because most patients in the study have been followed for less than a year and a half.

"My caution is that we need to keep watching them," he tells WebMD. "After five years, the incidence of acute rejection becomes very low. So if they are able to maintain these responses for five years, that will be very exciting."

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