|Transplant Talk - Dr Sue Conley
I have been very interested in transplantation since my fellowship back in the mid 70's. At that time only about 50% of the transplants that we did worked and most patients had rejection episodes. Transplantation remains a major area of research, both clinical research and basic research in the laboratory.
At present, more than 90% of kidneys transplanted from living donors will be working well atone year post-transplant, and over 80% of those from cadaveric donors will be working well. The kidney that is doing well after a year has an excellent chance of working well for many, many years. How many? I can't tell you, since continuous progress means that we do not havelong-term statistics that apply to the current technology. By far, the most common reason for loss of the kidney after the first year is noncompliance with the medical regimen--missing doses of medication, which I am convinced is sometimes done without the patient even realizing it is happening, or not monitoring one's health. I think that especially in the pediatric patient that frequent blood draws are the best way to keep a handle on what is happening.
Let me talk a little more about noncompliance before I go
on. Anyone can be noncompliant--it has nothing to do with how good a kid or person one is,
rather it has to do with being human. The only way to be sure that a dose of medication
was taken is to have a system. I think that the best system is to lay it out ahead of
time--then if it is gone from the container it was taken, and if it is there it needs to
be taken. I personally have taken multiple medications for many years, and I have one of
those week-at-a-time medicine boxes, because it is the only way that I can stay compliant.
To make this problem more complex, even the best of kids can decide to be difficult when
it comes to taking meds, and sometimes they do it in a passive agressive manner and hide
their noncompliance. Parents who have told me that their children are cooperative and
always take their meds have later sheepishly told me that they've found pills under the
mattress, once in the telephone book--all over the place, when the parents had thought
that the child had swallowed the pills. Why do they do this?--they're kids; they need no
other reason. This kind of behavior does not correlate with intelligence or with how
obedient the child seems to be. Be alert to it!! And then there are teenagers, who not
infrequently decide that the kidney was meant to be theirs, so stop the meds on purpose.
It may seem to work for a while not to take thier medications, but it eventually is
I asked today a 20 year old patient, who was noncompliant with his first kidney, to join the group. He is a very bright young man, plans to go to medical school, yet he didn't take care of himself. He now has his second kidney, and he takes super care of himself.
So, this may seem like a digression from the original topic, but no noncompliance has become one of our biggest research challenges in transplantation, since it is the most frequent cause of loss of the long-term graft. There is a conference next month on noncompliance in the transplant patient. It is in Virginia and will bring together patients, families and health professionals. It is an open conference.
The young man whom I mentioned lost his kidney in significant part because he did not urinate frequently. He has a bladder that was damaged by the presence of posterior urethral valves, a common defect in boys with kidney failure, and does not have normal bladder sensation. He cannot count on the sensation that his bladder is full to tell him that he needs to void, but has to void by the clock, otherwise his bladder fills and puts back pressure on the kidney by backing the urine up and damage can result.
This beings up another area of active thought and investigation--how to use the abnormal bladder for transplantation. The most common birth defect of the urinary tract in boys is posterior urethral valves, and an abnormal bladder usually results. Rehabilitating this abnormal bladder for use with a transplant kidney is an area where we are learning rapidly. There is also controversy on what is best still--and different approaches to these problems. This topic alone could be a book, so I won't say more here, but I want you to be aware that we are learning a lot about this are of using defective bladders for transplantation. In the past some children with abnormal bladders have been felt not to be transplant candidates, but now something can be done for most all of such children.
The first transplant done was done in the 1950's and was
identical twin to identical twin--and it worked without immunosuppression. Identical twins
are really clones of each other and so an identical twin is the ideal donor.
Cyclosporine was discovered in the 1970's and was first used in Europe, then began to be used in adults experimentally in this country in 1980, and we used it on the first child in the US in Houston in 1981. It was released on the market a couple of years later. Cyclosporine greatly improved success rates. The steps since then have been important but of much less magnitude. Cyclosporine is a tricky drug to use, and so it has taken a long time to learn how to use it, and we are still learning. Neoral, which is a microemulsion form of cyclosporine, has made it somewhat easier to use, since absorption from intestine to blood is better and more predictable with Neoral. Sandoz, now called Novartis, who make cyclosporine in both forms, the old form which is trade name Sandimmune and the microemulsion form, Neoral, plans to pull Sandimmune off the market at some point, leaving only Neoral, which should be fine.
There are three types of potential renal donors--living related, living unrelated and cadaver. Success rates are best with living related, next best with living unrelated and least with cadaver donors. Why are living unrelated better than cadaveric donors? Because the kidney from a living donor is optimally handles--the donor is healthy and not dying, so blood pressure is good and stable until the kidney is removed, and the time from removal of the kidney to placement in the recipient is short. This makes for less damage to the transplant kidney from any time of low oxygen and nutrients to the kidney, the delivery of which to the kidney is dependent on the blood pressure and general health of the donor. This shorter ischemic time (ischemic means without blood flow) also is important in setting the kidney up to be rejected. Ischemia (lack of blood flow and oxygen and nutrients) damages kidney cells--and in doing so release proteins that turn on the recipient's immune system to mount a stronger rejection response.
As soon as the blood vessels to the donor kidney are clamped off by the surgeon, a cold towel is wrapped around the kidney to start cooling it down, and it is kept cool until blood flow to it is re-established in the recipient--so while it is being sewn into the recipient, an attempt is made to still keep it cool. This time without blood flow is critical as I explained above. There are two types of ischemia time--warm ischemia time, which means time without blood flow to the kidney that the kidney is not cool, and cold ischemia time. Warm ischemia time is what you want to be very short--a couple of minutes all together. Cold ischemia time is much, much better tolerated. Cold ischemia time of up to 12 hours is like nothing much happened to the kidney, of up to 24 hours is not bad, and it goes downhill from there, with some surgeons accepting kidneys with up to 72 hours of cold ischemia time.
So living donor kidneys have the best chance. Kidneys from an identical twin have close to 100% success, with failure only coming from technical, surgical problems, which are not very many these days unless the bladder is abnormal. Living related donor kidneys have a greater than 90% chance of success at one year and cadaver kidneys a 80% chance at one year. Down the line at 5 and 10 years the gap between living related and cadaver kidneys gets wider, with a 60+% chance of a living related kidney working at 10 years and <40% chance for a cadaver kidney. If you take noncompliance out of the way--if patients were totally compliant with taking medications and getting check-ups, the statistics at 10 years would be much better, especially for the living donor grafts (kidneys). The success rates for living unrelated kidneys are midway between living related and living unrelated.
With time, matching, except in the case of an excellent match, seems to make less difference in success. Major blood group must be compatible, but matching of the tissue proteins (HLA antigens) becomes less important (less important but not altogether unimportant). Major blood group compatibility is necessary, but the Rh status does not matter for transplantation. Blood group 0 is the universal donor. Blood group AB is the universal recipient.
Let me explain blood group compatibility. You get one blood group protein from each parent--or may not get either of the two blood group proteins from one or both parents. The two proteins are A and B. You are type 0 if you get neither, type A if you got A from both parents, or A from one and nothing from the other, type B if you got B from both parents, or B from one and nothing from the other, AB if one gave you A and the other gave you B and 0 if neither one gave you anything.
If you are type A then you have antibodies in your blood to type B and vice versa. If you are type 0 you have antibodies to type A and B both. The blood-type proteins A and B are also on the kidney cells if they are in your blood. So, if you put a kidney of type A into someone of type 0, the kidney gets attacked by the antibodies to type A. But you can put an 0 kidney into someone of type A because the kidney has no blood type proteins on its cells to be attacked, and so the antibodies to type B that the person with blood type A has (remember if you don't have that type protein, then you have that type antibodies) don't have any proteins on the kidney to attack.
The reason that matching seems to make less difference in sucess is that we have better drugs now than every to calm the immune system and keep the kidney from being attacked. I will try to give a 'talk' on these drugs tomorrow.
As we get better and better at transplantation, more people are candidates to receive a transplanted kidney. We used to consider small children and older people as poor candidates for transplantation, but that is no longer the case. The waiting list for kidneys, and every organ, gets longer every year, and I believe that the number of people waiting for a kidney now in this country is approaching 40,000. An adult generally waits for three or more years on the list before getting a kidney. Children get some priority, and don't have to wait as long as adults, as they automatically get credited with extra waiting time, as if they had been waiting longer, with the younger children getting the most priority, and the older teens being treated as adults. There are some special circumstances also which can give one a higher priority. The system is run by UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, based in Richmond, Virginia. UNOS is supported by the government but is a private nonprofit agency, run by ordinary people and health care providers. Much effort is donated to the agency by interested volunteers to oversee its activities and make transplant organ distribution as fair and safe as possible. I do personally believe that it is both.
But there just aren't enough organs. We in the kidney arena are lucky, because the kidney is a paired organ, and living donation is possible, and also because we have dialysis to sustain life until transplant can be done. The number of cadaver donors isn't changing much from year to year. The best donor is one who dies an accidental death and becomes brain dead so that the organs can be removed while the heart is beating. Non-heart-beating donors are beginning to be used a little as a source of kidneys, but there is not as good a success rate because of a longer warm ischemia time.
Though we are doing a better job of educating the public that donation is a good thing, education about accidents and safer cars and seatbelts, etc make for fewer people who die because of brain death.
So we are going to need to do more living donor transplants if all who need kidneys are going to get them--which makes sense since they do better anyway. Too bad that the donor has to go through pain!! My experience is that it is a rare parent who doesn't want to donate to a child. But some children don't have donors because parents aren't a blood group match (yes, it is possible for both parents to be blood group incompatible) or because parents aren't healthy enough to be a donor.
The donor must be 100% healthy for the surgery and must have a healthy kidney to keep and a healthy kidney to give away. The donor must not be at risk of developing kidney disease him or herself--have anything like hypertension or diabetes which could affect the kidneys--such that the donor, left with only one kidney, gets kidney disease and might have been better off with two kidneys.
As long as the donor is healthy, and every center screens donors thoroughly, then the risk to the donor is very, very low. The risk of a major problem with anesthesia for a healthy person is less than 1 in 40,000. Life insurance companies do not change rates because one has only one kidney, as long as the one kidney is healthy. Their statistics show that life expectancy is the same if you have one or two kidneys. The donor can have children after donation.
The question that comes up to me most often from parents if
we find a health problem or find something wrong with one kidney--for example a stone in
one kidney--is, can't I choose to donate anyway and give my best kidney to my child? And
the answer is no; we won't put a donor at risk. I remind parents that sick children need
healthy parents who will always be there for them. And I ask if there are any other
relatives who might want to donate--or godparents or very close friends.
While we are on donors, let us talk about the donation a little more. The donor surgery is usally 3-4 hours if done traditionally with a flank incision. Now a few centers are starting to remove the kidney laparoscopically--there is still a little incision through which to pull the kidney out, and then a couple of more little incisions for the scope, but this method makes it all easier, with less incision to heal. The donor who has traditional surgery usually stays in the hospital 5-6 days. If the donor has a quiet job, return to work may be feasible in 3-4 weeks, but if the donor is a hard laborer, then it may be necessary to stay out of work 2 or more months. There is pain, particularly in the first couple of days after surgery, but there are also good anti-pain meds and a machine called a patient-controlled analgesia pump. This little pump is hooked into the IV, and when the patient pushes the button for the machine (the button is on a string, and the patient can hold it continuously in his/her hand even) the patient gets a dose of pain med. This means that there is no waiting for the nurse to come and then go get it--the theory is that if you take a dose of pain med as the pain starts, then it can never build up and it is easier to control. The machine will only give you so much medicine in any given time period, so that you can't get too much and get into trouble. Most patients don't take as much medicine as they are allowed. These machines are pretty standard these days, so that you will be able to have one if you are a donor. The recipient can have one two, as long as he/she is old enough to use it.
There is a book written by a donor, Ken Anderson, titled "A Small Part of Me, a Kidney Donor's Story", which talks about the whole process, including deciding to be a donor. It is $8 and you get it from him--I am writing this at home, and I have the info about reaching him at the office. He has an email address, so I will put it out to the group Monday.
Quality of Life
Frank Germanero is a man whom I would guess is in his 40's
and has had a cadaver transplant since he was an adolescent, I know for longer than 20
years, and I think for longer than 25 years. He is very advice in the National Kidney
Foundation and has been President of the Wisconsin affiliate and nationally has been on
multiple committees including the national executive committee. Frank has ?4 or 5 children
and is an elementary school principal. He has had kidney disease since he was very young.
Stephen Willis is a sophomore (?junior) at the University
of California at Davis. He is determined to be a pediatric nephrologist, and I believe
that he will succeed. He now has his second kidney. He received it in July, 1996.
William Litchfield is in his 50's and is an engineer. Bill was on home hemodialysis for many years--and he set up his dialysis machine and dialyzed on the floor of the Senate to convince Congress to pass the Medicare law covering renal failure. He is an engineer and an executive, and has since had a transplant. A few years ago he spent two years living inSingapore as a consultant.
If you ran into any of these people on the street, you would have no idea that they had ever had any serious health problems.
So, the message is that life can be good and worthwhile and goals can be accomplished in spite of the need for dialysis and transplant. Attitude plays a major role.
As parents, you need to be sure to have goals and aspirations for your child with kidney disease the same as you do for your other children. Yes, they need empathy, and sometimes even sympathy, but they also need to know that you know that they can handle it all. When they are feeling too badly to do schoolwork or go to school, you need to allow them to rest, but when they are better, you need to discuss a plan to catch up or at least resume.
Your child with a transplant will always need to take medications, probably multiple pills a day, but the chances are that by six months or so post-transplant that those pills will be taken in two doses a day, which is quite manageable. You child with a transplant will always need checkups. The routine for my patients who are stable and out a year or more from transplant is to have blood drawn once a month and be seen every 1-3 months, depending on the situation. The blood can be drawn at a lab that is open on the weekend.
Most children and adolescents are now in the hospital only 1-2 weeks post-transplant and are only out of school 1-2 months. Most of that 1-2 months schoolwork is possible, so that he/she doesn't need to fall behind in school.
We use much less prednisone than we used to and the Cushingoid side effects (fat face and abdomen) are not that much of a problem for most kids. Cyclosporine does promote hair growth and "Brooke Shields" eyebrows, but there are ways to handle that if it is objectionable.
Readmissions to the hospital are infrequent--only about 25% of children who receive a living related kidney have a rejection episode in the first year and about 50-60% of children receiving a cadaver kidney. These are current statistics, but with one of the new drugs on the market that just came out in January, 1998, I think that these percentages will be lower. This same drug will reduce the amount of prednisone needed in some cases. Most
rejection episodes are reversed.
So, putting it all together, the child who needs or has a kidney transplant has a good future ahead, but that child will always need to pay attention to his/her health in order to stay healthy. He/she must incorporate care of him/herself including the kidney into everyday life.
The goal is to prevent rejection episodes. We now believe that acute rejection episodes tend to lead to chronic rejection; chronic rejection is slow but inexorable--can't be stopped, although we are learning ways to slow it down. Acute rejection episodes occurring in the first couple of months post transplant often can be reversed completely without sequaelae, but not always.
So immunosuppression is thought of in different phases. First in the first days to weeks after transplant heavy duty drugs are used to prevent rejection. There are many ways to start out strongly to prevent the immune system from initially recognizing the kidney. Often at this stage IV drugs are used which are called induction agents, for example Zenapax, which is the newest, OKT3 and ATGAM (ATG). These are all anti-lymphocyte antibody preparations--they contain antibodies against lymphocytes, which are the while blood cells that mediate the rejection response. Zenapax is the one with the fewest side-effects, but is not yet approved for children under age 12 years--though we all expect that it is fine for them. The company, Roche, is currently doing studies on small children, but they are going slowly since there are not that many small children who are transplanted. I think that it is a great new drug. OKT3 is also a good drug, but can cause violent illness, including fever, vomiting and diarrhea. ATGAM can also make kids sick in the same way but usually not to the same degree. I think that over the next few years ATGAM and OKT3 will go away and newer better similar drugs like Zenapax will come to the fore. They will get more and more specific such that they knock out the immune response against the kidney and leave the ability to fight infection intact.
OKT3 and ATGAM when used to prevent rejection in the days after the kidney is placed are usually given as a daily IV injection for 7-10 days. Zenapax is given at the time of transplant and then every 2 weeks for a few months.
Sometimes these antibody preparations, as they are sometimes called, are not used and IV cyclosporine is started right away and given until oral cyclosporine is taken and tolerated. Another option is not to use an antibody prep and to use FK506 (tacrolimus or Prograf) right starting at the time of transplant. FK506 is easily absorbed by the intestines, so can be given starting right as soon as surgery is done.
In the first few weeks after transplant, then, immunosuppression is switched over to a maintenance type of regimen. Many different regimens are used now. Some are stronger than others--they are tempered to the needs of the recipient. Current regimens include:
-prednisone, Imuran (azathioprine) and Neoral
-prednisone , MMF (mycophenolate mofetil or CellCept), and Neoral
-prednisone and Neoral
-prednisone and FK506
-prednisone, Imuran and FK506
-MMF and FK506
The approach now on a chronic basis is to use two or more drugs which act each in a little different way, such that immunosuppression can be tailored to individual needs. Also using multiple drugs means that lower doses can be used of each drug to minimize bad side effects.
There are a whole host of new maintenance drugs coming down the pike.
I will continue--and go over the effects and side-effects of the drugs I have listed and go over some of the drugs coming.
There are several choices in drug regimens today. According to NAPRTCS data, over 90% of children with transplants in the US and Canada are on prednisone and are on cyclosporine, either as Sandimmune or Neoral. (NAPRTCS is the North American Pediatric Renal Transplant Cooperative Study, which tracks 80% of the pediatric transplants done in the US and Canada.) Most of these children are also on Cell Cept (mycophenolate mofetil, or MMF) or Imuran (azathioprine). Most of the children who are not on cyclosporine are on Prograf (tacrolimus or Fk or FK506). Most children on Prograf are also on prednisone. Fewer children on Prograf than cyclosporine are on a third drug past the basic two.
The mainstay drugs for preventing rejection are cyclosporine and tacrolimus--mainly cyclosporine. The other drugs are additional protection, but not helpful to the same extent. Cyclosporine revolutionized transplantation--improved the success of renal and heart transplantation completely and was an impetus to really going after liver transplantation and then after that lungs, small bowel, and multiple organ transplant.
Most kids are now on Neoral, rather than the older form of cyclosporine,
Sandimmune. Novartis (Sandoz) says that they will eventually stop making Sandimmune, which is ok. There will be generic, but of course their hope is that most will convert to Neoral. It is a better drug, although all of us have a few patients on Sandimmune who are doing great and don't want to rock their boats. Neoral is a microemulsion of cyclosporine and is absorbed better and more evenly from intestines to blood, which means that with diarrhea the cyclosporine blood levels stay up better. One problem we have had in the past is that if a child gets diarrhea, then cyclosporine is poorly absorbed, blood levels go down, and rejection results. I have seen that scenario more times than I can count. It is mostly a pproblem in little kids who get diarrhea the most--and more severely. Neoral makes this problem better, but there still can be an absorption problem with Neoral in diarrhea.
Neoral is absorbed better than is Sandimmune, and so the dose is usually a little lower. Since the cost is the same, Neoral ends up being cheaper. This better absorption is especially important in the kids under 2 years old, who sometimes absorb either formulation less well than do older children and adults, and may need quite high doses for size to get a good blood level. Once in a while no matter what you did with Sandimmune you couldn't get an adequate level for the first few weeks in a young child post transplant, and you ended up giving cyclosporine IV for a while; this happens far less with Neoral.
The side-effects of Neoral can be divided into the serious and the aggravating. The serious are:
-nephrotoxoicity--ie toxicity to the kidney
Let me take them one at a time. Nephrotoxicity is our biggest bug-a-boo. It is universal with the drug. Individual susceptibility plays a role, as do blood levels achieved--the more in the blood the more the kidney is affected. We follow "trough" blood levels, which are the levels in the blood right before a dose is given. These are helpful and give us a clue as to how much drug effect the patient is getting, but to really know, we need to do a kinetic profile, and look at the drug level every hour or two between doses and calculate an average blood level. Research is going on to fine a better way to monitor the drug. It looks as if one level drawn 6 hours after a dose in kids taking it every 12 hours will correlate well with the average blood level. We may end up converting to following that.
The reason that following drug levels is so important is that too high levels give nephrotoxicity and low levels can allow rejection. Since absorption from intestines to blood is variable, one can't judge how much to give based solely on body size like we do with most drugs where we give so much per kilogram or pound of body weight.
Nephrotoxicity comes in two forms--acute and chronic. Acute is of fairly rapid onset and happens when absorption changes such that more is absorbed or the dose is raised too high and the blood levels are higher than the kidney likes. As time goes on in the first months after transplant, the intestines' absorption of the drug improves and so usually we keep lowering the dose over the first months to year. So, since absorption is improving in the months after transplant, blood levels periodically rise, resulting in acute nephrotoxicity. This means that kidney function acutely decreases, ie serum creatinine level goes up. Acute nephrotoxicity is completely reversible; lower the dose and therefore the blood level, and the kidney function will improve.
Chronic nephrotoxicity occurs to some degree in almost
everyone who takes the drug--this is really scarring of the kidney and damage to the
tubules of the kidney--the tubules carry urine from the glomeruli (the filters) to the
collecting system, from which it goes down the ureter. The tubules are active parts of the
kidneys, as the filters are fairly nonselective, and they put many substances into the
initial urine that the body needs reclaimed into blood--the tubules are the reclaimers.
The tubules reclaim the right amount of salt and water to keep salt and water balance. In
advanced tubular disease urine output is high and lots of salt and water is lost in the
The lower the dose and the blood levels, the less will be the nephrotoxicity. When cyclosporine doses are well regulated, the chronic nephrotoxicity will only very slowly damage the kidney, over many, many years, and I don't think that it is something that you should obsess over. Before cyclosporine, the good kidneys lasted ten years, and many for far fewer years. Cyclo is our friend--with enemy potential, but the enemy can be kept at bay with good followup. One day we will replace it with a better drug--and in the case of most kids transplanted in the cyclo era, it will be before cyclo has done too much dirty work. I think that the nephrotoxicity is more progressive in kids who are not well-hydrated, and that is why I think that kids on cyclo should take plenty of salt and fluid--by that I mean a normal amount of salt, not be restricted, and take a lot of fluid. Some of this recommendation is based on data that we gathered at Stanford when I was there, and which we are just now putting together and making public.
Also, as the kidney is in the body longer, the lower the blood level of cyclosporine needed to keep rejection at bay. Much higher levels are needed initially post-transplant than are needed down the pike. By 6 months to a year post-transplant, the blood levels needed stabilize. Lowering the amount in blood lowers the severity of the chronic nephrotoxicity induced.
Hypertention occurs in 75-80% of patients on cyclo in the early post-transplant period, and at 6 months post-transplant 50-60% of pediatric patients taking cyclo post-transplant are still on anti-hypertensive drugs. It is tied up in the effect on the kidney of cyclo. All one can do is to treat it. There is some evidence that the gingival hyperplasia (overgrowth of the gums) that cyclo can cause also is aggravated by one particular anti-hypertensive drug called nifedipine (Procardia or Adalat are the trade names in the US) so I avoid that drug except for short-term use in patients on cyclo. In some patients with hypertension from cyclo some mild salt restriction may be indicated, but I think that it is not indicated in most--normal, not excessive salt intake is best--ie 4 grams of sodium in a big kid per day. Cyclo cuts down the blood flow to the filters, the glomeruli, and it is there that renin is made, which is a hormone that regulates blood pressure. Salt restriction reduces blood volume which reduces glomerular blood flow and will result in more renin production and higher BP. In addition the decreased blood flow to the kidney from the decreased blood flow will aggravate the nephrotoxicity.
Regarding infection, cyclo suppresses IL-2 which is a protein that is instrumental in regulating the activity of T-lymphocytes, which are the type of white blood cell that attacks the kidney in rejection. These same cells are important in fighting infection, particularly certain types of infection, like CMV and EBV viruses and funguses. With current regulation of cyclosporine doses, and the fact that we use much less prednisone after transplant than we used to use, infection is becoming less and less of a problem. The risk of infection is greatest in the first weeks and months post-transplant. Personally, I only keep kids out of school for 4-6 weeks after transplant now, since the risks are so much lower that they will catch something than in the past--unless it is the middle of a particularly bad season of flu, RSV, or if the child hasn't had chickenpox, chickenpox.
Regarding the long term risk of cancer--we don't know enough here yet, but certainly kids on long-term cyclo (years), depending on dose, are at a higher risk of cancer. Having rejection episodes and having the amount of immunosuppression raised periodically increases the risk. This risk is not just from cyclo--but from the overall amount of immunosuppression given--so amount and time are probably the crucial factors--plus a big input of individual susceptibility.
The reasons that immunosupression increase cancer risk are not completely understood. We think that all of us periodically have a wild cell start to multiply rapidly and form a cancer and that our immune systems sense those early cancer cells as foreign and destroy them. It therefore makes sense that the person on immunosuppression is more susceptible to cancer. The susceptibility is somewhat more the stronger the immunosupression and the longer it is given.
But I want to make it clear, when I talk about increased susceptibility, I don't mean that it is inevitable--I mean that the incidence is higher than in the general population, so patients and doctors need to be aware--patients need to bring new symptoms to the attention of their doctors, and the doctors need to consider their significance carefully. Most transplant recipients do not get cancer.
A precancerous condition called lymphoproliferative disease occurs once in a while--diagnosed early enough and treated, it will respond to treatment in most cases. It is caused by the EBV virus.
It all comes down to: the transplant recipient must be particularly aware of his/her health and body functions--get regular check-ups and blood draws. I am cautious; I recommend that even my most stable patients have blood drawn every 4-6 weeks and be seen by their nephrologist every 1-3 months, depending on the patient. Now, the aggravating side-effects: hair, hair, hair--dose-related--or rather blood level related--and also related to individual susceptibility. Cyclo encourages hair growth everywhere--head, face ,arms, legs, chest, back, pubes. The kids with darker skin and hair grow more extra hair than the fairer kids--and the hair is blonder in the fair kids so doesn't show so much. In my experience the Hispanic kids who have dark hair have the worst time. It can be removed by any means--delapitories, shaving, wax, but it can be a pain. Cyclo creates lots of Brooke Shields look-a-likes. The other cosmetic side-effect, which most parents don't pick up themselves is that when cyclo is given to young children in the first few years of life it gives them a typical facial bone structure--with prominent brows and cheekbones--not necessarily a problem, just predictable.
Tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf) is not much different from cyclo when it comes to nephrotoxicity and hypertention. It is worse for causing lymphoproliferative disease and may be worse regarding other infections and cancer--unclear. It is sometimes better for kids with rejection that cyclo won't stop--we often use it preferentially in kids who are high-risk for rejection--who have strong immune systems and have already lost a kidney rapidly to rejection post-transplant. Prograf causes diabetes in 10-20% of those taking it--this one is bad news!!--once in a while cyclo causes diabetes, but not nearly as often.
We are getting better at using tacrolimus with time--some of its bad side-effects--lymphoproliferative disease and diabetes-- are at least partially dose-related, and we are learning to use lower doses than were used when it first came out.
One big attraction of tacrolimus over cyclo has been the lack of the extra hair growth. Some kids do have a very difficult time with this; it can't be minimized, but I have a hard time with instances where this seems to be the only reason a patient will want to switch from cyclo to Prograf. There are usually ways to deal with the hair--and one has to keep in mind that in the case of teenagers every little blemish can be seen as a major problem and self-esteem can be heavily linked to perception of physical beauty and very shaky.
So, still in the US and Europe most centers use cyclosporine as their first choice mainstay antirejection drug, but tacrolimus has a place in some patients--initially or later on after transplant. A few centers use it in everyone, and that is ok--now with all of the drugs that we have, one will find more and more variation in drug protocols between centers and between patients in the same center. All of these drugs are fairly difficult to use--lots of individual variation between patients and different effects and side-effects to balance, so that one thing that is important is the experience of the individual center or doctor with the drug being used. It is impossible to have extensive experience with all of the drugs available. Each one has advantages and disadvantages, so there are multiple ways to do things.
Now a word to the parents of children with nephrotic syndrome who are on cyclo. The doses of cyclo that we use in most children with nephrotic syndrome are lower than the doses we use in children with transplant kidneys--so the side-effects are less. Also, children with nephrotic syndrome are generally on it for up to a few years--not for a lifetime!! So, don't get too bent out of shape by the potential side-effects.
There are multiple new drugs, and it is getting so that we can individualize drug regimens much more than ever before based on immune system function, match of the kidney, the recipient's original disease, past transplant history, etc, etc.
There are two new antibody preparations now--against IL-2 which is an immune protein active in the rejection process. One is Xenapax (daclizumab) and the other is Simulect (basiliximab) and they do about the same thing. Xenapax came on the market in January and Simulect is about to come out. They will mainly be used prophylactically to prevent rejection and antigen recognition early--first dose immediately pretransplant and then at intervals for varying durations between the two. By preventing antigen recognition, I mean keeping the recipient's immune system from recognizing the key proteins of the donor kidney as foreign--perhaps long-term, not just while the drug is in the body. They also allow lower doses of the other drugs with their dose-related side-effects to be used, cutting down the drug side-effects for the patient quite a bit in the first few months.
Then there is rapamycin (nickname rapa), also now called sirolimus, which will be used in conjunction with cyclosporine or FK506 (tacrolimus or Prograf) and work synergistically--ie the two drugs together do better than one would expect if their good effects were just additive.
MMF (mycophenolate mofetil or Cell-Cept) may be a drug used in combination with cyclosporine or Prograf or rapa along with an antibody prep to get patients off prednisone after the first few months..
We will continue to develop new drugs and find better ways of combining them.
The bottom line is that I see:
1. better and better kidney survival with fewer drug
To realize the best for your child, you need to be sure that the transplant is done in a center experienced with pediatric transplant and keeping up with all of this new stuff.
I have to say that I see very few patients going through hell for six months or a year as is described. I wouldn't put off transplant because of dread--go for it--chances are 90% it will make your child's and your life better!!
Be careful also of listening to experiences of even as recently as 5 years ago and think that your experience will be the same--it won't--things are rapidly changing for the better!!--actually getting better and cheaper at the same time!
Most of my patients are out of the hospital in about a week and a half. Transplant centers often have arrangements with Ronald McDonald houses or nearby hotels for patients living at a distance to stay while being seen often. They come back very frequently for 4-6 weeks, every 2-3 days, but then go to weekly and by 8-10 weeks are coming every 2 weeks, then by 3-4months once every 3-4 weeks. They go back to school at 5-6 weeks after transplant without much in the way of restrictions, participating in physical education and all but the "dangerous sports" like varsity football. They are on unrestricted diets. They take pills, probably quite a few, twice a day, once in a while three times a day. They need to weigh themselves, take temperature and blood pressure once or twice a day. They are mildly Cushingoid (round steroid face) for a month or two, but the dose of prednisone is down to 2-3 mg (baby), 5 mg (5-10 year old), 7.5 mg teen girl, 10 mg ( teen boy) a day by 3 months post-surgery and these doses don't cause much side-effects.
The kids have more energy and feel better than they did on dialysis or with advancing renal failure, so I am used to seeing happy families. I generally recommend moving kids to transplant as fast as is feasible.
Dr. Sue Conley