The Native American population has one of the greatest needs for organ donors because of a high incidence of diabetes and end-stage renal disease, yet many are reluctant to donate a kidney because of a belief that they need to take their body intact to the spiritual world when they die. If they donate, many believe, their spirit will be restless.
Researchers with the Johns Hopkins Immunogenetics Laboratory say characterizing the specific HLA genes among different Indian tribes will identify their similarities and differences with other populations, helping to ensure compatible organ transplants. Their new report, published in the January issue of the journal Human Immunology, identifies two new alleles, or alternate gene forms, among the Lakota Sioux tribe.
"Because so many Native Americans volunteered to be in this study, we hope that their awareness of the value of tissue compatibility may make the message of donation more welcome," says Mary S. Leffell, Ph.D., lead study author and professor and director of the Hopkins laboratory. "Our study provides the first look at the HLA proteins and alleles present among the Sioux people at a time when their need for transplantation is rapidly increasing. The findings show that there is a much higher probability of finding a really good organ match among other Native Americans than among other racial/ethnic groups. Certain Asian populations share some of the same HLA proteins as the Sioux and also could be good donor choices."