Thunder Bay

First Nations patients with kidney disease part of new research

A Northern Ontario School of Medicine professor is leading a team of researchers to find an optimal strategy to prevent severe pneumococcal infections in First Nations people suffering from chronic kidney disease.

Researchers working on strategy to prevent pneumococcal infections in those with severe kidney disease

A research team recently began a clinical trial of a new vaccine with renal patients at the Thunder Bay hospital. Aboriginal people have higher rates of pneumococcal infection than the general population. (IStock)

A Northern Ontario School of Medicine professor is leading a team of researchers to find the best strategy to prevent severe pneumococcal infections in First Nations people with chronic kidney disease.

Pneumococcal infection is particularly common in people suffering from severe kidney disease. This type of infection can cause pneumonia, blood poisoning (sepsis) or, less commonly, meningitis.

“To prevent these serious conditions, everyone with severe kidney disease should be immunized against pneumococcal infection. However, even after vaccination, some people remain vulnerable,” said Dr. Marina Ulanova, NOSM Professor of Immunology.
A research team led by Thunder Bay Northern Ontario School of Medicine faculty member Dr. Marina Ulanova is developing a strategy to prevent severe pneumococcal infections in First Nations people suffering chronic kidney disease. (Supplied)

“The current vaccine, Pneumovax, is very efficient in building protective immunity in individuals with a normal immune system, but not in those with weakened immune systems, such as people with severe kidney disease.”  

She said kidney disease often develops as a result of diabetes.

“People suffering from severe kidney disease have to be on hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis therapy and eventually need to receive a kidney transplant,” she said.

“Kidney disease weakens the immune systems of these patients, causing them to be vulnerable to infections.”

To help determine the optimal vaccination strategy, Ulanova’s team of researchers have recently initiated a clinical trial of Prevnar13 in patients with severe chronic kidney disease receiving care through Renal Services at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Their objective is to develop the optimal protocol for prevention of pneumococcal infection in this vulnerable patient population. As almost 50 per cent of the patient population in the hospital’s renal services are First Nations people, the research team is paying special attention to the effectiveness of this vaccine in people of aboriginal background. 

According to a news release issued by NOSM on Tuesday, North American Aboriginal Peoples have higher rates of pneumococcal infection than the general population, but the specific reasons are uncertain.

“It is possible the immunization protocol may have to be adjusted to ensure everyone receives adequate protection,” Ulanova said. “We are confident that our research will result in an optimal strategy to prevent severe infections in First Nations people suffering from chronic kidney disease.”

The research is being funded by a $100,000 grant from Pfizer.

Ulanova has been working with co-investigator Dr. William McCready, NOSM professor of Internal Medicine and chief of staff at the Thunder Bay hospital.

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