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in 2000, 708,738 people died of kidney diseases (1.36% of total deaths that year). In 2015, it was 1,129,246 (2%). The percentage deaths actually lowered dramatically in younger people. There was a large increase in deaths by kidney diseases in older people, due partly to those older people having lived longer due to surviving other causes of death that would have gotten then earlier.
Diseases or damage to the kidney are known as nephropathy or renal disease. This covers a lot of specific diseases. No matter what disease it is, when the kidneys start to fail, a kidney transplant is diagnosed. So, it can be said that every successful kidney transplant is a saved life, because the transplants are never done for non-life-threatening reasons. Patients typically live 10-15 years longer with a donated kidney than if they were on dialysis alone.
The first kidney transplant attempt was in 1933 by Yuriy Voroniy in the Soviet Union. His patient died two days later because the transplanted kidney and recipient body had different blood groups.
The first successful transplant happened in 1950, on Ruth Tucker in Illonois, US. The donated kidney was rejected ten months later because immunosuppressive therapy was not available at the time, but that gave the patient time to recover function in the remaining original kidney. She lived another five years.
Because of the difficulty in getting patient bodys to stop attacking the tranplanted organs, kidney transplants were then only considered safe between identical twins.
In 1954, a kidney transplant was done by Joseph Murray and J Hartwell Harrison to a recipient from his deceased brother; the first time an organ was successfully transplanted from a dead body.
In 1957, azathioprine was first created, by Gertrude Elion and George Herbert Hitchings. It was found in 1958 that it suppresses the formation of antibodies in rabbits. Roy Calne, a British surgeon, was working with 6-MP as an experimental immunosuppressant in 1959, and Gertrude Elion suggested he try azathioprine instead. he found it to be much superior to 6-MP and suggested it be used, and in 1962, the first successful kidney transplants between unrelated patients were performed.
Azathioprine continued to be the immunosuppresant of choice in kidney transplants until 1978 when ciclosporin became the standard (again introduced by Roy Calne).
Further improvements in immunosuppresants have happened since then, and the introduction of anti-T cell antibodies (proteins that tell the immune system to not react to specific targets such as transplanted organs).
Transplanted kidneys now have a 90% chance of surviving the first year, thanks to immunosuppresants and anti-T cell antibodies.
In 2008, it was estimated that there were 69,400 kidney transplants carried out worldwide.
In 2013, there were 70,000 people on a waiting list for kidney transplants in Europe alone, with 6000 people on the waiting list dying in that year. That's 6000 people that died because there weren't enough kidneys to transplant.
One solution to the lack of available kidneys is to build artificial kidneys.