Replacing a kidney is a difficult process because the kidney acts as a filter for the body. Its functions are to excrete (get rid of) urine which contains the end products of metabolism and help regulate the water, electrolyte level, and the acid base content of blood. As a complex filter, it allows the body to maintain adequate levels of glucose (a chrystal-like sugar compound), magnesium, and other chemicals needed for regular bodily functions.
Although the kidneys have a relatively simple blood-supply system, they initially proved difficult to transplant. As early as 1933, attempts were made to transplant a kidney. Problems with the body's rejection of the new organ were the principal reasons for failure. It wasn't until 1954 that the first successful transplant was made. One of the principal reasons for the success of the surgery was that the kidney donor was an identical twin of the patient. Because the donor and the patient were so closely related, their body tissues were excellent matches.
Once the procedure gained this limited success, the next thrust of research was to find a means for reducing the rejection of the organ. In 1962 the matching of body tissues between the recipient and prospective organ donors increased the success rate for kidney transplants. Then, in that same year Imuran (azathioprine) was used as an immunosuppressant and the success rate increased again.
About ten years later in 1972, cyclosporin ushered in an era of wide-spread organ transplants. Leading the way in kidney transplantation was British surgeon Roy Calne. By 1963 Calne had published a standard text on kidney transplantation. Working closely with his associate David White, Calne experimented with cyclosporin. This drug was supplied by Swiss scientist Jean-Francois Borel. After extensive tests and trials, cyclosporin became the standard drug to be used for transplants of all types. Combining this drug with steroids further increased the success rate for these types of surgeries.
[See also Steroids ]