Animal Research in the Development of Kidney Transplantation ...A Personal Perspective

In 1971, I was diagnosed with kidney failure. Although I didn’t know it, my life had taken a new path. With a husband to love and support me, and a new baby daughter to raise, I had to pull myself together and get on with life.

My blood pressure was much too high, and soon I entered a clinical trial at the University of Washington in Seattle. The new blood pressure medicine being tested in the trial worked well for me. It slowed my kidney failure and kept me off dialysis for several years, much longer than had been projected.

That blood pressure drug had recently emerged from animal testing. At the time, I didn’t realize how close I would be to the little mice used in most animal research, and I didn’t know how I would eventually defend their role in biomedical research.

I began dialysis in July 1978 and adapted well. The following April my brother gave me a kidney, and it worked immediately. I felt like a new person. It gave me freedom. I was curious about the history of my medications and was amazed at how researchers took their ideas from the bench to animal testing. After demonstrating new therapies using animal models, the therapies were then tested in human clinical trials. What seemed so fitting to me was that, in many instances, these therapies came back to the animals for use in their own health care.

I lectured to schools, colleges, civic groups, and even churches about kidneys, transplants and, of course, the part that animal research plays in all of our lives. I also became aware of a new dissenting group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which had connections to a local group called “PAWS” and a more extreme version called “NARN.”I tried to communicate with these groups, but they had no interest in reasoning and were very rude. In one instance they were very aggressive and began pushing me. Fortunately my husband was there and stepped in.

In 1986, I lost my brother’s kidney and went back on dialysis, which was complicated by severe anemia. My doctor, Joseph Eschbach, was also a researcher studying erythropoietin (EPO). His research was to the point of clinical trials. I felt at death’s doorstep when he put me into the trials, but within four weeks I could run up four flights of stairs and had the strength to withstand the stress of another transplant surgery. The kidney I received was in “trauma” and to save it, I received another new drug called Orthoclone OKT3. Within four days I could sense that the kidney was working. It worked well for 21 years—what a life, what freedom!

My recovery was so dramatic that Amgen, the company that had developed recombinant human erythropoietin as a drug, invited me to give lectures to its employees. This gave me the opportunity to thank them for their part in saving my life. Organizations throughout the United States invited me to talk about my experiences and what I had learned about animal research. Somehow I feel that by standing up to animal extremists, it gave me a way to “give back” and say thank you to the people who devote their lives to saving others.

In March 2000, Research America! honored me for my contributions to biomedical research. My husband, daughter, and Dr. Eschbach were by my side in Washington, DC, as I received the award.

I worked at a local veterinary clinic for six years, and found it interesting to learn that EPO and many other medications given to animals were tested on human guinea pigs like me! I’ve also consulted for many Seattle area biomedical companies and love being close to the starting point of the miracles brought to us by so many mice.

In October 2007, I received a new kidney. Miraculously, it matched perfectly and kicked right in, but fate stepped in and caused other problems. Ultimately a blood clot destroyed the kidney, and it had to come out. Many other complications necessitated a six-month hospital stay. Because of the blood clot, I had to learn to walk again, which took a lot of hard work, but I’ve made it back.

Biomedical research has saved my life over and over. I’m now on dialysis three times a week. I can hardly believe the changes that have taken place in dialysis in the last 33 years—in the procedures, the medicines, and the machine itself. Of course I’m also back using EPO, and it is keeping me strong.

I thank God every day for my life, my husband, our family, and our grandchildren. It’s breathtaking to have lived this long and see the goodness medical research has done for everyone.

As for transplant number four? I’m still pondering that possibility while I play with my grandchildren.


[1] Patty Wood is a kidney transplant recipient and has been an outspoken advocate for biomedical research using animal models for more than 20 years.