Changes made to kidney transplant eligibility process

(ABC 6 News) – A new requirement in transplant centers will make it easier for Black patients to qualify for a transplant.

Dr. Naim Issa, who works in Mayo Clinic’s Kidney Transplant Program, said it’s common practice to use formulas to estimate kidney function, as directly measuring is time-consuming and cumbersome.

However, many hospitals have historically used a Black race variable in the formulas used to estimate kidney function based on blood and waste analyses.

That variable was created to try to control for higher creatinine levels in the blood of Black patients, a genetic trend.

But in recent years, Issa said, it’s become clear that formulas, including the race variable, can overestimate a Black patient’s kidney function by 16-20%.

Black people in America are already at risk for kidney disease – they’re more than three times as likely to experience kidney failure, and are at higher risk for diabetes and high blood pressure – both risk factors.

The Black race variable also made it likely that patients would wait longer for a transplant referral, even if their kidneys were functioning at a low rate.

According to Issa, "That can delay, actually, the listing for kidney transplantation for several years and often even delay the referral to a kidney doctor to seek care for a kidney disease."

While the formula change will get many at-risk patients on the kidney transplant list sooner, Issa said it’s important to remember that many people die without donors each year. He encouraged friends and families of patients to get tested for compatibility and consider living kidney donation.

According to Mayo Clinic, more than 1/3 of the 90,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant in the U.S. are Black.