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Medical Innovation: Kidney Donation and Stem Cells

How a Clinical Trial Helped a Chicagoan Reclaim Her Health

After a kidney transplant and years on dialysis, Margaret Rainey, of Hyde Park in Chicago, was separated from her passion – being part of the Muntu Dance Theatre's performing company.

Margaret knew that the immunosuppressant medications she needed to prevent organ rejection can also cause kidney damage. This can significantly shorten the lifespan of the transplanted kidney. So, she stopped dancing and instead she spent her time researching options to improve her health.

Now, she is one in a group of kidney transplant recipients who does not need immunosuppressant medications thanks to a Northwestern Medicine clinical trial led by Joseph R. Leventhal, MD.

Working Against Disparities

Black adults are disproportionately affected by kidney disease. But, Black patients make up just 5 percent of clinical trial participants in the United States. With this in mind, Margaret says she knew that this was bigger than just her own health.

"For many years I would see stories about African Americans and kidney disease, and I would break out in a cold sweat," she says. "For a long time, I was afraid to look these things up, but once you're on dialysis and you're sitting on a machine every night, you start to research."

Margaret's journey led her back to what she was familiar with: her family.

Staying Close to Home

Margaret's daughter, elementary school teacher Arianna Barrett, was her kidney donor. Arianna lost more than 50 pounds to get healthy enough to donate to her mom. As part of the clinical trial, Arianna also donated stem cells to her mom. Margaret received these via an infusion the day after her kidney transplant. Northwestern Medicine Transplant Surgeon Dinee C. Simpson, MD, conducted the transplant.

Through the manipulation of these donor stem cells, Margaret's body now recognizes Arianna's kidney as its own. This means she does not need strong immunosuppressant medications.

"They are not only looking at the stem cells – they're looking at the kidney, too," Margaret explains of the care team's approach. "Even after I went home, I was coming to the hospital so often. It felt so good to be looked at."

Now, not only does Margaret have her health back. She is also back to dancing.

Innovative Care at Northwestern Medicine