When drugs don’t work: research spares kidney transplant patients from unnecessary risks

January 21, 2016

Ottawa Resident Jim Ward, who received a kidney transplant from his brother in 2001, took part in an important eight-year study that showed a commonly prescribed drug doesn’t work nearly as well as previously thought and could potentially harm kidney transplant recipients.

On Valentine’s Day 2001, Ottawa soccer coach and marathon runner Jim Ward received a kidney transplant from his brother after an infection damaged his own. After his successful recovery, Valerie Cronin, a research coordinator at The Ottawa Hospital, asked the then-51-year-old if he would like to join a study of kidney transplant patients.

“My mind said ‘no,’ but my heart said ‘yes’ because the transplant went so well for me and I wanted to give back,” said Ward. Getting involved in the eight-year study turned out to be a great experience for him.

“It was very professional, very well done. I did feel like I was accomplishing something. And how could I say ‘no’ to free parking?” Ward joked.

Like most transplant patients, Ward had to take dozens of pills every day to keep his new kidney in working order.

Unfortunately, not all of those pills were helpful. The study by Drs. Greg Knoll and Dean Fergusson showed that one common drug called ramipril has no benefit to kidney transplant patients, and can even have dangerous side-effects. Dr. Knoll is a kidney transplant specialist at The Ottawa Hospital, where Dr. Fergusson leads the clinical epidemiology research program.

Previous studies showed that ramipril reduced the chance of kidney failure in high-risk patients who had not had transplants. For years doctors assumed the drug would also be good for transplant patients, and often prescribed it to them despite limited evidence.

But the study by Drs. Knoll and Fergusson, who are both professors at the University of Ottawa as well, showed that when transplant patients did take the drug, it made no difference to their kidney health. In fact, the patients who took ramipril were more likely to have low blood counts, known as anemia, which can contribute to transplant failure and even death.

This discovery will have a significant impact on other high-risk kidney transplant patients in Canada.

“We expect that this will change medical practice around the world and spare patients from taking unnecessary and potentially harmful medication,” said Dr. Knoll.

As for Ward, his kidneys are working perfectly and he’s still running marathons 15 years after the transplant.

“I’m very active, and I can’t ask for more,” he said.

About The Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care.

For further information, please contact

Jennifer Ganton
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73325
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