First kidney transplant: June 17, 1950
Dr. Richard Lawler, a surgeon at the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Chicago, had done a few experimental organ transplants with dogs, but now he has going to try the procedure on a human. The patient is Ruth Tucker, a 49-year-old woman whose mother and sister had already died of polycystic kidneys, and the disease has caused her own kidneys to almost stop functioning. This is before dialysis is available and it’s clear that Tucker will die soon if something isn’t done.
Shortly after another 49-year woman with cirrhosis of the liver dies in an adjacent operating room, doctors remove one of her kidneys and bring it into Lawler. It takes him only an hour and a half to replace Tucker’s left kidney. At least 40 other doctors watch the surgery, with those in the back row standing on tables to get a better view. One of them has to take over filming the procedure when the photographer faints.
What made the operation that much more remarkable was that it was attempted before immunosuppressant drugs that counter the body’s rejection of an organ–now standard treatment for transplants patients–were available, and before the development of tissue typing that ensures a good match between donor and recipient. Tucker had waited in the hospital five weeks for a donor, but the selection was based more on finding someone of the same gender and close to her age and size.
But the transplant took, at least initially, and a month later Tucker went home. Within a year, however, her kidneys were producing less and less urine, and when Dr. Lawler opened her back up, he could see that the new kidney had shrunken in size, suggesting that her body’s immune system was rejecting it. Nonetheless, the transplanted kidney had worked well enough for her to recover some of her own natural kidney function, and she lived until 1955. She died of coronary artery disease, which doctors believed was unrelated to her transplant.
For several years, other doctors in the U.S. and in France attempted kidney transplant surgeries, but none of the patients survived. The next successful transplant wasn’t done until 1954, when doctors at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston removed a kidney from Ronald Herrick and transplanted it into his identical twin, Richard.
But that was a situation in which rejection was unlikely. It actually wasn’t until the early 1960s, when both tissue typing and immune suppressant drugs had been refined, that organ transplants became considerably less risky. Between 1954 and 1973, about 10,000 kidney transplants were performed.
Transplant surgery really took off in the 1980s after a much more effective immunosuppressant, called cyclosporine, was developed. In 1986 alone, nearly 9,000 kidney transplants were performed in the United States, with a greater than 85 percent survival rate for the first year. Today, almost 70,000 kidney transplants are performed around the world every year.
The irony is that Dr. Lawler, the surgeon who performed the first one, never did it again. Although he was besieged with letters from doctors wanting to learn from him and from patients seeking his services following the transplant surgery on Ruth Tucker, he demurred. He had no interest in becoming a transplant surgeon. As he told an interviewer, “I just wanted to get it started.”
More slices of history:
Alcoholics Anonymous born: June 10, 1935
Bizarre stomach experiment: June 6, 1822
Heimlich maneuver born: June 1, 1974
Toothpaste in tubes: May 22, 1892
The Fist Vaccination: May 14, 1786
The Pill Arrives: May 9, 1960
Hello, Cheerios: May 1, 1941
First hit workout video: April 24, 1982
Insulin goes mainstream: April 15, 1923
Polio vaccine celebrated: April 12, 1955
First artificial heart: April 4, 1969
First batch of Coca-Cola: March 29, 1886
Elephant man case presented: March 17, 1885
Vitamin D can help prevent hypertension
Concerned about high blood pressure and hypertension? It’s time to go get some sun, or at least some more vitamin D. In a new study from University College London, people with low blood levels of vitamin D had a much higher risk of developing hypertension; those who had high levels of the vitamin were at a lower risk and generally had reduced blood pressure. The study found that for every 10 percent increase in vitamin D concentration in the blood, the risk of developing hypertension fell by 8.1 percent.
By compiling 35 different studies from across Europe and North America, the study authors were able to analyze the effects of vitamin D on hypertension in more than 155,000 people. The researchers were able to observe concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D – 25(OH)D – and link it with blood pressure. While the researchers found that as 25(OH)D concentrations went up, risk of developing hypertension went down, the authors of the study pointed out that correlation between these factors does not necessarily mean causation – though the evidence appears to point to it.
Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in the Western world, according to previous studies. The vitamin can be consumed by eating or drinking supplements or by exposing skin to the sun, which triggers the body’s production of vitamin D.
In addition to the association to hypertension, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to a heightened risk of autoimmune diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Too much sugar can cause heart failure
New research from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston has found that a diet with too much sugar greatly increases a person’s risk of heart failure. The study found that specific glucose molecules – glucose metabolite glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) – can lead to improper heart function. And so when someone consistently consumes too much sugar and starch, it can cause severe stress to the heart which could ultimately cause heart failure. Previous studies have suggested that people who consume high levels of added sugar, such as in processed foods and soda, are more likely to have higher heart disease risk factors.
The UTHealth study first observed animal models, then moved on to human tissue taken from patients who had a piece of their heart muscle removed so that an assistive device could be implanted. The results showed that G6P can cause significant damage to the heart muscle. If the heart is already stressed, excess glucose only worsens the cardiovascular pressure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 5 million people suffer from heart failure in the U.S. every year. Approximately half of the people diagnosed with the condition die within a year of diagnosis and more than half a million new cases of heart failure are reported every year.
The discovery that sugar could be linked directly to heart failure may provide an opportunity for people to prevent heart problems by focusing more on making changes in their diets.
Baldness drug may curb interest in alcohol
Many men with receding hairlines who want to fight male-pattern baldness turn to a medication called finasteride, marketed as Propecia. However, the drug carries some unintended side effects – including, possibly, a decreased interest in alcohol. In a recent George Washington University study, two-thirds of men who took Propecia for baldness admitted to drinking less alcohol than before they started taking the drug. While this effect may not be found in all men, scientists sought to discover why it might happen.
For this study, researchers tracked 83 men aged 21 to 46 who were taking the Propecia for hair loss, but who said they were experiencing sexual side effects at least three months after they stopped taking the medication. Among the 63 men who reported drinking at least one alcoholic beverage a week before starting the drug, 65 percent said they cut back after taking it, 32 percent reported no change in drinking habits, and only three percent said they were drinking more. Eighteen men gave up drinking entirely. Many of the men reported a lower tolerance for alcohol, felt more anxious from drinking and recovered more slowly after imbibing.
While the research did not provide a specific explanation, the authors of the study suspect that Propecia’s lingering effects may interfere with pathways in the brain. It is also believed that the medication may interfere with the brain’s ability to make certain hormones, which are linked to alcohol consumption.