Scientists to study impact of kidney transplants on heart disease

31 July 2018        

Category: Research

New research we've funded could help to lower the risk of death by heart and circulatory conditions in people living with chronic kidney disease.

A MRI scanner

In its mission to drive forward research into conditions connected to the heart, the heart charity has awarded £272,000 to researchers at the University of Birmingham. 

The funding will provide a pioneering clinical study, which will assess if heart and circulatory conditions are reversed when patients with reduced kidney function receive a kidney transplant.

It comes as people living with chronic kidney disease are at a higher risk of death or morbidity due to heart and circulatory disease. Chronic kidney disease is a long-term condition in which there is a gradual loss of kidney function over a period of time. When kidneys become impaired, the heart suffers as it has to increase its workload to pump blood around the body.

Professor Charles Ferro, Honorary Professor of Renal Medicine at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Consultant Nephrologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, has received the funding from the BHF for the three year clinical research training fellowship, which will be taken up by Dr Luke Pickup.

The research will involve using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing, which creates detailed images of the heart and its structures, on 100 people living with chronic kidney disease.

Scientists currently use cardiac MRI testing and have found evidence of heart and circulatory conditions in people living with reduced kidney function, including increased blood vessel stiffness, heart weight and scattered heart scarring. These are most evident in patients needing dialysis treatment and also in those with abnormalities of calcium and phosphate control.

As part of the study, people who are currently on dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant will undergo a cardiac MRI test 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. Blood tests of the patients will also be analysed to see if any improvements in the heart are linked to better control of calcium and phosphate.

Paving the way

Professor Paulus Kirchhof, Director of the University of Birmingham’s 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, our Senior Research Advisor, 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.”

Transplant games

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, 2nd August to Sunday 5th August, 2018.  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.