New study aims to discover if kidney transplants reverse heart damage in patients with chronic kidney disease

A new study has found the potential to reverse heart and blood circulation damage.

The University of Birmingham is leading a new clinical trial to discover whether kidney transplants can reverse the heart and blood circulation damage that is often caused by chronic kidney disease.

The trial, funded by a £272,481 award from the charity British Heart Foundation (BHF), will assess if heart and circulatory conditions are reversed when patients with reduced kidney function receive a kidney transplant.

When kidneys become impaired, the heart also suffers as it has to increase its workload to pump blood around the body, therefore people living with chronic kidney disease are at a higher risk of death or morbidity due to heart and circulatory disease.  Existing evidence has shown kidney disease patients needing dialysis treatment and those with abnormalities of calcium and phosphate control are at greater risk of conditions such as increased blood vessel stiffness, heart weight and scattered heart scarring.

Charles Ferro, Honorary Professor of Renal Medicine in the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Consultant Nephrologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, has received the funding from the BHF for the three-year clinical research project.

The study, which will involve 100 people with chronic kidney disease, will see people who are currently on dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant undergoing an MRI heart scan before their transplant.  They will then receive a follow-up test one year after they receive a transplant.  The images of those patients will then be compared with those of patients who remain on dialysis over the same time period.

Scientists will then assess the detailed images in order to see if any heart abnormalities have been reversed by improved kidney function due to the transplant. Blood tests will also be analysed to see if any improvements in the heart are linked to better control of calcium and phosphate.

Professor Paulus Kirchhof, Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, said: “This definitive study could pave the way in finding causes of heart and circulatory conditions connected to chronic kidney disease. It could also lead to future treatments to prevent the development of these potentially life-threatening conditions.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve the cardiovascular outcomes of the millions of patients living with chronic kidney disease and helping to prevent the needless deaths that can be caused by related heart and circulatory conditions.”

Dr Noel Faherty, Senior Research Advisor at the BHF, said: “Although the connection between heart and circulatory conditions and chronic kidney disease is well known, the mechanisms are less clear. This means there is some uncertainty over what measures should be implemented to reduce the risk of death and morbidity in patients with reduced kidney function.

“Funding this research at the University of Birmingham could provide us with answers and introduce new opportunities for treatments and preventions, which will ultimately save lives.

“This funding has only been made possible by the fantastic generosity of the public. We rely on their support so that we can drive forward research programmes in our mission to beat heartbreak forever and ensure that we keep hearts beating and blood flowing.”

The news comes as the University of Birmingham is to host part of the 41st edition of the Westfield Health British Transplant Games, which will be held across the city from Thursday 2 August to Sunday 5 August. The Games will shine a light on the research behind transplants, as well as the hard-work, dedication and talent of the doctors and nurses who bring hope to patients undergoing transplant surgery and their families.

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