Home>Cardiff Met News>New medical research aims to detect virus in kidney transplant patients

New medical research aims to detect dormant virus in kidney transplant patients and reduce hospital stays

March 12, 2020

Cardiff Metropolitan University
Laruen Jones and Nic Clarke

Kidney Wales has teamed up with Cardiff Metropolitan University to tackle a virus which poses a significant threat to the health of kidney transplant patients.

Cardiff Met PhD student, Lauren Jones, will be working on a project, supported by Kidney Wales, to research into Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a widespread virus that affects approximately 60-70% of people in the developed world. After initial infection with HCMV, it remains dormant in the body but may reactivate in individuals during their lifetime, this is particularly dangerous for kidney transplant patients.

Roughly 50% of kidney transplant recipients in Wales will receive a kidney from an HCMV positive donor, the subsequent infection can lead to longer hospital stays, and high costs to the NHS, currently estimated at £1.1 million in Wales over the last three years (based on an estimated £8400 for a three-week hospital stay). This research will explore the potential for earlier detection of viral reactivation, and hopes to improve the clinical outcomes and quality of life for kidney transplant patients. 

Lauren Jones has been funded by Kidney Wales and the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2) which builds on an ongoing collaboration between Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, NHS Wales and Kidney Wales.  

She said of the project: “I hope my research will give a better insight into HCMV and its impact on transplant patients. Over the next three years I hope that we will be able to develop new and improved diagnostic tools. Using the virally secreted protein IL-10 we could potentially detect the reactivation of HCMV earlier than current methods, leading to early treatment and prevention of extended hospital stays not only in Wales, but across the UK.  

“I’m so grateful for the funding that I have received, and I have already begun working on the first stage of the research.”  

HCMV is a common herpes virus, but many people are unaware they have it because they may not have any symptoms. The immunosuppression that transplant patients receive, means that they are at a greater risk of the virus re-activating and causing a serious infection.  

Lauren will be supported in the research by Dr. Rebecca Aicheler, a senior lecturer of immunology at Cardiff Met, who has for several years undertaken her own research into Natural Killer (NK) cells and HCMV. She added: “The KESS2 funding was the last round available, so we’re delighted to be able to work with the European Social Fund (ESF) and Kidney Wales to develop this research.  

“Lauren was a fantastic candidate, because she is a great ambassador for women in science – which is a competitive environment – and also, she has the skills to be able to share her research with others.”  

Nic Clarke, Director of Operations and Fundraising for Kidney Wales commented: “With 1 in 2 of Wales’ kidney transplant patients contracting HCMV, putting their health at greater risk, this research is vital to be able to make a positive impact on future transplant recipients. We are pleased to be able to support Lauren in her research, which is a continuation of our already established relationship with Cardiff Met. We look forward to seeing what comes of the research over the next three years.”

There will be three stages to the project:

  • To establish a method of detecting the virally secreted protein IL-10 in the blood of kidney transplant patient
  • To understand how the variation of viral IL-10 from patient to patient affects their clinical outcome
  • To understand how viral IL-10 influences the cells of the immune system (particularly NK cells) when faced with a HCMV infection

Associate Dean of Research at Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences, Professor Philip E. James, commented:  “We are excited to be partnering with Kidney Wales on this KESS2 project researching an area with such importance for kidney transplant patients and the NHS. We have a strong history of biomedical research leading to impact at Cardiff Met and we will be supporting Lauren over the next three years in the development of new and improved diagnostic tools.”

The research will include clinical samples from kidney transplant patients from University Hospital Wales in Cardiff. With Lauren presenting her completed research findings in 2022. Kidney Wales and Cardiff Met already have a strong relationship, with the Cardiff Met Cardiff 10K race title partnership entering its third year. The race is one of the UK’s top ten road races and in 2019, saw more than 9,500 runners take to the capital’s streets.