Back in 2007, I volunteered to give a blood sample at Guys Hospital, as part of a research project called Indices of Renal Tolerance , which investigated how some kidney transplant patients recovered after operations.
Normally after a transplant operation, our bodies' immune systems would attack any new organ placed inside a body because they see it as a foreign body that must be destroyed before it can do any further damage to us, which is precisely what we don't want to happen when we've replaced a diseased malfunctioning one, with a new healthy one.
To avoid this, patients need to take immunosuppressant drugs, that, as you'd imagine form their name, inhibit these defence systems, allowing the new kidney to work without being rejected by the body.
The problem with immunosuppressants
Sadly these aren't without side effects, and as a rule, you really want to have your immune system at full strength to avoid infections or general illnesses. So transplant patients often end up spending the rest of their natural lives in a somewhat debilitated state as a result of these drugs.
Some people however, have immune systems can develop a tolerance to the newly transplanted organs, meaning they'd be free to live lives free of the side effects from the immunosuppressants, if it weren't for the fact that coming off medication runs carries the risk of killing them if it turns out that their bodies weren't as tolerant as they thought after all.
Coming off the drugs
However, one of the outcomes the research project I was in was the discovery of a chemical signature in patients who may carry this tolerant trait. As we get better at detecting this trait, more people may be able to live lives either free of these drugs, or with much lower dependencies on them.
Why am I writing any this?
To be honest, I had pretty much forgotten about being involved in this project, and the only memories I have are of almost passing out like a total pansy when giving the blood sample ( I needed to drink loads of sweet tea , and sit with my feet up until I felt well enough to stand...), but this month, I received a letter telling me that the study had been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, with a few snippets of the press coverage.
And, well... I do feel like a bit of a douche writing about this here, because it I can easily sound like that guy who reminds you about how much they give to charity they are, or how much they like to recycle and so on, and how wonderful a person they are.
But the pleasure and the feeling of pride from the letter far outweighs any potential embarrassment I might feel, especially if it helps persuade anyone else to volunteer for any similar medical research projects.
If you have the time, and you're a healthy person, I'd really recommend volunteering like this - it's incredibly fulfilling, and even including my comical fainting episode, we're talking a total time outlay of maybe two hours of my time, to help someone else live the rest of their life free from the side effects of drugs that they might not even need to to be taking.
So, in short - yay science!