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BK virus in kidney transplant patients’ cancer risk

Q. How might your research change the way we monitor and treat kidney patients?  

We’re looking to improve our understanding of the risk that BK virus poses. We already know that it poses a big threat to transplanted kidneys, but if it also increases the chance of bladder cancer then we hope that knowing about these additional risks will make people take BK seriously. 

There is currently no nationally agreed screening program for BK virus. So with the British Transplant Society, I’m co-chairing the development of new clinical guidelines for BK virus, with the hope that we could agree a national approach to screening where we could collect data from the whole country and bring it all together to really understand how much of a risk BK is posing to patients. At the moment, every centre has developed its own screening program, and some don’t do any screening at all. We’re trying get everyone in the UK to work together, with the hope that we can improve clinical practice.  

Then the main goal of the PhD studentship is to find a new treatment that would nicely slot in. At the moment, if you’ve had a kidney transplant and you get a BK diagnosis, the clinical team will reduce your anti-rejection medication slightly and that allows the immune system to come back and fight the virus. And the idea is to get the anti-rejection medication just right so that it allows enough immune system function to kill the virus but not enough to reject the transplanted kidney.

What we hope is that we could add in a targeted therapy that really hits the virus at that time, so the little bit of immune system that we’re allowing back in stands a better chance of killing the virus.