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Reading Between the Lines

It seems that every time a ‘significant’ research study is released, the media goes all hob-nob in reporting how great the results are. Too often the miss the finer points, issues that academics and scientists know are important and often lead to additional studies, but the average layperson (including the journalist reporting it) gloss over entirely.


Today it’s the latest from the New England Journal of Medicine regarding the long-term consequences of kidney donation.

Associated Press article

The average reader will walk away from this article thinking “See, you can be a living donor and lead a perfectly normal life with no repercussions”.


However, let’s break this down. Excerpts from the article, but the bolding is mine for emphasis:

The good outcomes likely reflect the strict criteria used to pick the donors, the researchers said. The donors had to be healthy with no kidney problems, and be free of high blood pressure and diabetes — two main causes of kidney disease.

“We think these donors do extremely well because they were screened very well,” said Ibrahim.


Drs. Jane Tan and Glenn Chertow, of Stanford University School of Medicine, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal, noted that the study donors were mostly white and were likely younger than donors today. The results may not apply to older, nonwhite donors, they said.


Also, of the living donors who were asked to return for lab tests and a questionaire, only 14% did so. Is this really a large enough sample? And is it a skewed sample? Are the 14% who replied more healthy and well-adjusted than the 86% who didn’t?

The subjects were 99% white and had a median age of 41 years. These facts alone maks the results quite limited in their application. When you begin to add in all the other factors… Well, let’s just say no one should go running to their nearest transplant center any time soon.


Ibrahim, H., Foley, R., Tan, L., Rogers, T., Bailey, R., Guo, H., Gross, C., & Matas, A. (2009). Long-Term Consequences of Kidney Donation New England Journal of Medicine, 360 (5), 459-469 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0804883

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