I’ve found for the last 10 years or so that I can’t quite keep up with my friends when we’re out cycling. I could thrash non-cyclists, but anyone who cycles a lot will thrash me in return. When Andy started cycling regularly, he quickly overtook me even though I was cycling 15 miles every day.
I’ve put this down to a few things – beta blockers (They put a ceiling on your heart rate, so you can’t pump as fast – I tried coming off them – no change in my fitness) – my weight (I managed to lose quite a bit – down from 17.5 stone to about 14, still he beat me – I’ve relaxed a bit now and am 15.5) – and I was left just thinking it must be something vague to do with the kidney failure.
I was recently asked if I would help out with a study being done in labs funded by the Kidney Care Appeal into muscle wasting in chronic kidney disease patients. A couple of my healthy friends had given samples too, as controls, and they were also after kidney patients. I was happy to volunteer. I received a wodge of information in the post, and made an appointment at Leicester General to meet them.
Talking with Dr Natalie Shur and Dr Emma Watson, I found out quite a lot of cool and vaguely troubling things about muscle tissue and kidney patients.
It seems that in chronic kidney disease patients of many kinds, muscle tissue doesn’t behave quite the same way as it does in healthy patients. Even from quite an early stage, the microtears that normally occur during exercise don’t heal quite as they should. Also gradual loss of muscle mass – sometimes mild but often severe – is common. Studies have shown that people who have lost a lot of muscle tissue are more likely to die early and have generally poorer outcomes from dialysis, transplant etc.
This happened to my own father – towards the end of his life he lost a lot of muscle mass, to the extent that he had to use a disability scooter to get around. Previously he had been proud to have strong cyclist’s legs, like I have. Losing the muscle was deeply painful for him because he was a fit man who loved climbing mountains more than anything. Being able to do something more than just raising money to help look into this is very important to me.
Natalie and Emma are collecting samples of muscle from CKD patients and matching them with control samples of healthy volunteers. From these they are growing cultures and subjecting them to a battery of tests to see what can be learned to shed light on the muscle wasting and recovery issues and improve outcomes for patients.
I volunteered to take part, which involved a biopsy of a muscle in my leg – the vastus lateralis (I’d never heard of it either!). Dr Shur dabbed a little iodine on my leg, and injected me with a local anaesthetic (this was the only painful part of the procedure, and it was very bearable – like a very mild wasp sting, which quickly faded as the anaesthetic took effect). Then they normally take 3 biopsies – they asked me if they could take a fourth and I said yes as it was so painless by that point. I saw the site afterwards before the bandage had been applied and it wasn’t much to look at – about 4 or 5mm long and 1mm wide. Like a scratch.
Afterwards I feel like I have been given a dead leg, but that is fading. All in all it’s been fine and I’m very glad I took part.
They are very keen to get other volunteers – healthy or kidney diseased – to donate tissue. Apparently it’s actually harder to get healthy volunteers than kidney compromised ones, because they have kidney patients all over the place at the hospital. So – if you would like to help in a very direct way, this is something you can do!
If *YOU* are awesome enough to help, here’s the details:
The Leicester Kidney Exercise Team
The University of Leicester Academic Unit
Leicester General Hospital
Leicester LE5 4PW
Telephone: 0116 258 4346