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Published: 2023-09-14
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Histology for nephrology, from preimplantation to post-transplant kidney biopsy. Lesson learned from ReBIrth (Renal BIopsy for Kidney Transplantation Therapy)

Department of Diagnostic and Public Health, Section of Pathology, University and Hospital Trust of Verona, Verona, Italy
Pathology Unit, "Città della Salute e della Scienza di Torino" University Hospital, Turin, Italy
Medicine University of Verona
Nefrologia, Dialisi e Trapianto, Ospedale Niguarda Milano, Italy
Department of Medicine, Nephrology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
Department of Surgical Sciences, HPB and Transplant Unit, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Roma Italy
Division of Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplantation, University Hospital "San Giovanni di Dio e Ruggi d'Aragona", Salerno, Italy
Renal Transplant Unit, Azienda Ospedaliera Brotzu, Cagliari, Italy
Division of Nephrology and Dialysis, ASST Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy
UOSD Nefrologia e Trapianto Renale, Dipartimento di Chirurgia Generale e Chirurgie Specialistiche dei Trapianti di Rene, Nefrologia, Cure Intensive e del Dolore, Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Federico II, Napoli, Italy
Transplant Surgical Unit, A.O. S. Camillo-Forlanini, Rome, Italy
Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy
Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplant Unit, IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation Unit, Department of Surgical, Oncological and Gastroenterological Sciences, University of Padua, Padua, Italy
IsMeTT, UPMC Palermo, Italy
Division of Nephrology and Dialysis, ASST Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy
Unità Operativa Complessa di Nefrologia, Dialisi e Trapianto Renale, AULSS8 Berica, Ospedale San Bortolo, Vicenza, Italy
Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation Unit, Department of Translational Medicine, University of Piemonte Orientale (UPO), "Maggiore della Carità" University Hospital, Novara, Italy
Transplant Unit, Department of Internal Medicine, San Raffaele Hospital IRCCS, Via Olgettina 60, 20132 Milan, Italy
Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences (DISCAB), University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila, Italy
Unit of Nephrology Dialysis and Transplantation, Department of Internal Medicine, IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino, Genoa, Italy
Fondazione Policlinico A. Gemelli – UOS Trapianti di Rene, Roma, Italy
Unit of Nephrology Dialysis and Transplantation, Department of Internal Medicine, IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino, Genoa, Italy
Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy
Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation Unit, Department of Emergency and Organ Transplantation, University of Bari, Bari, Italy
General Surgery and Kidney Transplantation Unit, "OO.RR. San Giovanni di Dio e Ruggi d'Aragona" University Hospital, Salerno, Italy
Fondazione Policlinico A. Gemelli – UOS Trapianti di Rene, Roma, Italy
Transplant and HPB Unit, Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy
Unità complessa di Nefrologia, Dialisi e Trapianto, Udine, Italy
Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplant Unit, IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation Unit, Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences, University of Foggia, Foggia, Italy
Department of Diagnostic and Public Health, Section of Pathology, University and Hospital Trust of Verona, Verona, Italy
digital pathology immunosuppression kidney biopsy whole-slide imaging kidney transplantation

Abstract

A meeting entitled Renal BIopsy for Kidney Transplantation Therapy (ReBIrth) took place on May 31st, 2022 in Bologna, Italy. The meeting drew together nephrologists, surgeons, and pathologists and recognized as experts in the field of kidney transplantation in Italy. In this paper, we present our experience working with kidney transplants in the current era of immunosuppression therapy. The primary aim is to report the histopathological characteristics of failed kidney allografts after a consensus of experts reviewed the cases on a wholeslide imaging digital platform. Regardless of the cases discussed, digital pathology was reliable in identifying all the morphological and immunohistochemical features required to improve the correct use of immunosuppressive therapy to prevent graft failure and optimize patient management.

Introduction

The implementation of digital pathology into clinical practice is well established, and the continual refinement of the tool is playing a crucial role in the learning approach and the collaborative sharing of knowledge 1. The community of pathologists is making a great effort to adopt and validate digital technologies in several pathological fields, including organ transplantation 2. In this scenario, kidney transplant biopsy is the perfect field in which digital pathology can improve clinical management, modulating the therapy of these patients, given the change and expansion of classification and the need for a different expertise.

The essential role of kidney biopsy is undeniable. Along with the collection of clinical/laboratory data, histopathology is crucial in the overall assessment of the kidney’s condition for a more precise prognostic evaluation of long-term graft function. However, there is wide variability in biopsy scoring among pathologists. Moreover, the difficult interpretation and ambiguous thresholds used to assess all criteria included in the Banff classification is another important issue with relevant clinical implications 3. Finally, more than in other areas, multidisciplinary discussion is mandatory for an appropriate clinic-pathological diagnosis.

For all of these reasons, a meeting entitled Renal BIopsy for Kidney Transplantation Therapy (ReBIrth) was organized by Novartis Farma on May 31st, 2022 in Bologna, Italy, which included traditional lectures and interactive sessions in which clinical cases on digital platforms based on wholeslide imaging (WSI) were discussed. The latter session comprised the main part of the meeting. The aim was to promote the exchange of knowledge on kidney transplantation among nephrologists and pathologists by recognized opinion leaders in the field.

Meeting overview

The meeting involved pathologists, nephrologists, and surgeons from all the Italian kidney transplant centers who shared their expertise by reviewing cases using digital technologies for educational and diagnostic purposes to improve the prospects for managing kidney transplantation. Attendees were 31 nephrologists from all over Italy. The event was structured with lectures and interactive multidisciplinary practical sessions involving case discussions. Cases consisted of 48 slides previously digitized with a Panoramic p1000 scanner at 40x magnification and then uploaded on a dedicated web platform. The file sizes of the digital slides ranged from 200 megabytes to 1.5 gigabytes.

The experts were gathered into four small groups, and the scanned cases were collegially discussed after the slides were reviewed (Fig. 1). This allowed the participants to make multidisciplinary decisions for the management of transplanted patients. The fields discussed were: preimplant diagnosis, acute rejection, chronic rejection and its management, and infectious and neoplastic complications.

For completeness, in the following sections, two cases are reported as examples.

CASE 1: PREIMPLANT DIAGNOSIS

A former smoker 47-year-old man died from cardiac arrest after a car accident. Bioptic samples of the left and right kidneys were obtained. Neither glomerulosclerosis nor fibrosis nor tubular atrophy was detected. However, a slightly increased thickness of the arteriolar walls was reported. The Karpinski histologic score was 1 in both renal biopsy samples. Nevertheless, intraluminal fibrin occlusive thrombi and intramural fibrin in arterioles were observed in more than 90% of the glomeruli detected (Fig. 2). Therefore, a final diagnosis of thrombotic microangiopathy was rendered.

CASE 2: REJECTION DIAGNOSIS

A 59-year-old woman was diagnosed in 1985 with pauci-immune crescentic glomerulonephritis, which slowly led to chronic kidney failure. In 2011, the patient developed a diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL), with cervical, lung, and liver involvement, which achieved complete response following chemotherapy. In 2013, the patient started hemodialysis, and six months later was referred to the hospital for dilatative cardiomyopathy correlated to previously administered chemotherapy. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2017, the patient suffered from multiple pneumonia episodes.

In 2018, she received a kidney allograft from a deceased donor (55 years old, histologic score 0), after a cold ischemia time of 13 hours and 34 minutes, with a panel reactive antibody value (v-PRA) of 0%. She was given immunosuppressive induction based on basiliximab, tacrolimus, mycophenolate mofetil (MMF), and steroids, with further maintenance therapy relying on tacrolimus, MMF, and steroids. Twenty-three months after transplantation, the patient had a celiac nodal recurrence of DLBCL that was treated with rituximab (4+4). The tacrolimus levels and steroids were then reduced, getting a stable renal function (serum creatinine 1.1-1.5 mg/dL). Donor-specific antibodies (DSA) had always been negative.

Three months later, the patient was admitted to the hospital for oligoanuria and dyspnea. Her laboratory examinations revealed significantly increased serum creatinine levels (7 mg/dL) with a negative COVID test. A renal biopsy was performed, which demonstrated acute T cell-mediated rejection (TCMR) with severe inflammation in the non-scarred cortex (i3) and a marked tubulitis (t3) with multiple foci of tubular destruction and associated regenerative nuclear irregularities (Figs. 3A, B - PAS staining). An immunohistochemical assay for the BK virus tested negative. Moreover, four arteries showed reactive endothelial changes and endarteritis, associated with fibrinoid necrosis of the wall in three of the vessels (Figs. 3C, PAS; 3D, AFOG staining; 3E, Trichrome staining), which was then scored v3*, because of the presence of interstitial hemorrhage (Fig. 3F, Trichrome staining). Immunohistochemistry on paraffin-embedded tissue failed to demonstrate C4d deposits (Fig. 3G). The inflammatory infiltrate was made up of small CD3-positive T lymphocytes (Fig. 3H), ruling out the hypothesis of renal involvement by the known lymphoma. Glomeruli were normal, and immunofluorescence on frozen material was negative.

Thus, a final diagnosis of acute TCMR grade III sec. Banff 2019 was made, and the patient began pulse steroid therapy and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg).

Discussion

The restricted availability of donor organs compared to the number of patients with end-stage renal disease has led to the employment of several strategies to expand the pool of potential donors and find the best strategy for saving allografts. Histological evaluation of kidney biopsies, along with specific clinical/laboratory data, is one of the main systems routinely employed to guide the proper management of grafts, in both the pre-and post-transplantation settings. Pathological assessment of transplanted kidney biopsies often relies on the recognition of subtle pathological changes, and it has been shown that the evaluation of grafts by experienced nephropathologists may contribute to reducing the number of organs wrongly discarded 4. However, dedicated transplantation physicians are not available in all institutions, which can potentially affect the overall clinical management of patients. In this scenario, digital pathology can significantly help speed up the standardization of pathological reporting of kidney biopsies. Apart from the physicians’ expertise, nowadays, this goal is further hampered by the subjectivity of evaluation and the complexity of the referral scoring systems.

Although the use of digital pathology and WSI in the field of transplantation is still limited, several examples of the application of such a disruptive tool have been reported in recent years, both in the pre and post-transplantation settings 5-7. First, good concordance rates between WSI and conventional light microscopy have been reported by several studies addressing the feasibility of digital pathology in renal transplantation settings 8, showing comparable results with only slight differences between digital and glass slide assessment that did not affect the allocation of the organs 9. Second, modern technologies have enabled the creation of easily accessible web-based digital platforms for rapid and safe storing of WSIs, allowing rapid and wide sharing of digitized cases 10. Along with the recent demonstration of the reliability of small portable devices such as tablets to evaluate kidney transplantation biopsies 11, this would be extremely valuable by allowing resource-limited institutions to quickly get second opinions from trusted experts in the field. Furthermore, computers trained by machine-learning algorithms have started to be developed 12. These are becoming able to recognize specific pathological features in challenging cases, such as counting and classifying sclerotic glomeruli and quantifying the amount of interstitial fibrosis 13,14.

Despite these considerations, multidisciplinary discussion plays a key role in the overall transplant management approach, and, as far as pathologists are concerned, digital pathology provides an innovative tool for the collegial review of difficult cases by experts. The 2022 Bologna meeting efficiently showed that sharing WSI by the different working groups greatly helped pathologists to reach definitive collegial diagnoses. In fact, the interactions between meeting attendees at the same table led to concordant diagnoses highlighting the pathological clues on the WSI. Moreover, the improvement of conventional diagnostic methods with annotation functionalities, such as the possibility of drawing regions of interest and applying rulers and other objective measuring tools, can significantly contribute to reaching a more homogenous and standardized reporting of kidney transplant biopsies. Finally, the feasibility of currently available digital pathology systems suits the adoption of such tools not only during specifically organized meetings and symposia but also in routine daily practice, which is the ultimate goal that will allow patients to benefit from the best possible clinical care.

Conclusions

The meeting successfully brought together recognized experts in transplantation in Italy demonstrating valuable results for the best management of transplanted patients obtained by using a multidisciplinary approach, where clinicians and pathologists together can discuss cases and review the WSI of kidney biopsies. Although the use of WSI to discuss cases is well-known as a useful tool, its routine use still requires improvement, especially in this particular field.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The authors have nothing to disclose.

FUNDING

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-to- profit sectors.

AUTHORS’ CONTRIBUTION

Conceptualization: AC and AE. Methodology: AC and AE. Formal analysis and investigation: AC and AE. Writing – original draft preparation: AC and SM. Writing – review and editing: AB, MI, SA, MA, RA, LA, DA, NB, RC, CC, GC, CDB, FDI, AG, FG, GM, VP, AlP, AnP, FP, DP, AR, MR, ER, MPS, LT, PT, GV and GZ. Supervision: AE.

Figures and tables

Figure 1.Attendees gathered into different working groups during the meeting.

Figure 2.Thrombotic microangiopathy. Low (A) and intermediate (B) magnification of kidney biopsy stained with hematoxylin and eosin showed thrombotic microangiopathy in several glomeruli. Higher magnification highlights the comparison of a glomerulus affected and a normal glomerulus (C). Intraluminal fibrin occlusive thrombi in the glomerulus are easily observed (D).

Figure 3.Acute T cell-mediated rejection. Tubulitis and foci of tubular destruction with associated regenerative nuclear irregularities can be seen (A, B: PAS staining). Fibrinoid necrosis of the wall vessels is revealed by using different staining (C: PAS; D: AFOG; E: Trichrome), as well as interstitial hemorrhage (F: Trichrome). C4d immunohistochemistry tested negative (G). The inflammatory infiltrate was made up of small CD3-positive T lymphocytes (H). AFOG: Acid Fuchsin Orange G; PAS: Periodic acid-Schiff.

References

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  3. Loupy A, Haas M, Roufosse C. The Banff 2019 Kidney Meeting Report (I): Updates on and clarification of criteria for T cell- and antibody-mediated rejection. Am J Transplant. 2020; 20:2318-2331. DOI
  4. Girolami I, Gambaro G, Ghimenton C. Pre-implantation kidney biopsy: value of the expertise in determining histological score and comparison with the whole organ on a series of discarded kidneys. J Nephrol. 2020; 33:167-176. DOI
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  8. Jen KY, Olson JL, Brodsky S. Reliability of whole slide images as a diagnostic modality for renal allograft biopsies. Hum Pathol. 2013; 44:888-894. DOI
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  10. Neri F, Eccher A, Rigotti P. Advantages of using a web-based digital platform for kidney preimplantation biopsies. J Pathol Inform. 2021;1241. DOI
  11. Marletta S, Pantanowitz L, Malvi D. Validation of portable tablets for transplant pathology diagnosis according to the College of American Pathologists Guidelines. Acad Pathol. 2022; 9:100047. DOI
  12. Girolami I, Pantanowitz L, Marletta S. Artificial intelligence applications for pre-implantation kidney biopsy pathology practice: a systematic review. J Nephrol. 2022; 35:1801-1808. DOI
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Affiliations

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Anna Caliò

Department of Diagnostic and Public Health, Section of Pathology, University and Hospital Trust of Verona, Verona, Italy
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Antonella Barreca

Pathology Unit, "Città della Salute e della Scienza di Torino" University Hospital, Turin, Italy
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Medicine University of Verona
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Maria Italia Sara Achenza

Nefrologia, Dialisi e Trapianto, Ospedale Niguarda Milano, Italy
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Marianna Alessi

Department of Medicine, Nephrology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
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Department of Surgical Sciences, HPB and Transplant Unit, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Roma Italy
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Division of Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplantation, University Hospital "San Giovanni di Dio e Ruggi d'Aragona", Salerno, Italy
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Davide Argiolas

Renal Transplant Unit, Azienda Ospedaliera Brotzu, Cagliari, Italy
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Nicola Bossini

Division of Nephrology and Dialysis, ASST Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy
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Rosa Carrano

UOSD Nefrologia e Trapianto Renale, Dipartimento di Chirurgia Generale e Chirurgie Specialistiche dei Trapianti di Rene, Nefrologia, Cure Intensive e del Dolore, Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Federico II, Napoli, Italy
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Concetta Carriero

Transplant Surgical Unit, A.O. S. Camillo-Forlanini, Rome, Italy
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Giuseppe Castellano

Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy
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Giorgia Comai

Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplant Unit, IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
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Caterina Di Bella

Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation Unit, Department of Surgical, Oncological and Gastroenterological Sciences, University of Padua, Padua, Italy
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Francesco D'Ingnoto

IsMeTT, UPMC Palermo, Italy
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Agnese Gallico

Division of Nephrology and Dialysis, ASST Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy
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Unità Operativa Complessa di Nefrologia, Dialisi e Trapianto Renale, AULSS8 Berica, Ospedale San Bortolo, Vicenza, Italy
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Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation Unit, Department of Translational Medicine, University of Piemonte Orientale (UPO), "Maggiore della Carità" University Hospital, Novara, Italy
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Transplant Unit, Department of Internal Medicine, San Raffaele Hospital IRCCS, Via Olgettina 60, 20132 Milan, Italy
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Alessandra Panarese

Department of Biotechnological and Applied Clinical Sciences (DISCAB), University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila, Italy
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Angelica Parodi

Unit of Nephrology Dialysis and Transplantation, Department of Internal Medicine, IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino, Genoa, Italy
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Francesco Perna

Fondazione Policlinico A. Gemelli – UOS Trapianti di Rene, Roma, Italy
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Daniela Picciotto

Unit of Nephrology Dialysis and Transplantation, Department of Internal Medicine, IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino, Genoa, Italy
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Anna Regalia

Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy
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Michele Rossini

Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation Unit, Department of Emergency and Organ Transplantation, University of Bari, Bari, Italy
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Enrico Russo

General Surgery and Kidney Transplantation Unit, "OO.RR. San Giovanni di Dio e Ruggi d'Aragona" University Hospital, Salerno, Italy
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Maria Paola Salerno

Fondazione Policlinico A. Gemelli – UOS Trapianti di Rene, Roma, Italy
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$authorString->getFullName() => Luca Toti

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Luca Toti

Transplant and HPB Unit, Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy
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$authorString->getFullName() => Patrizia Tulissi

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Patrizia Tulissi

Unità complessa di Nefrologia, Dialisi e Trapianto, Udine, Italy
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$authorString->getFullName() => Gisella Vischini

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Gisella Vischini

Nephrology, Dialysis and Renal Transplant Unit, IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria di Bologna, Bologna, Italy
non esiste orcidID ""

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$authorString->getFullName() => Gianluigi Zaza

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Gianluigi Zaza

Nephrology, Dialysis and Transplantation Unit, Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences, University of Foggia, Foggia, Italy
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$authorString->getFullName() => Albino Eccher

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Albino Eccher

Department of Diagnostic and Public Health, Section of Pathology, University and Hospital Trust of Verona, Verona, Italy
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Copyright

© Società Italiana di Anatomia Patologica e Citopatologia Diagnostica, Divisione Italiana della International Academy of Pathology , 2023

How to Cite

[1]
Caliò, A., Barreca, A., Marletta, S., Achenza, M.I.S., Alessi, M., Angelico, R., Apicella, L., Argiolas, D., Bossini, N., Carrano, R., Carriero, C., Castellano, G., Comai, G., Di Bella, C., D’Ingnoto, F., Gallico, A., Gastaldon, F., Merlotti, G., Paloschi, V., Panarese, A., Parodi, A., Perna, F., Picciotto, D., Regalia, A., Rossini, M., Russo, E., Salerno, M.P., Toti, L., Tulissi, P., Vischini, G., Zaza, G. and Eccher, A. 2023. Histology for nephrology, from preimplantation to post-transplant kidney biopsy. Lesson learned from ReBIrth (Renal BIopsy for Kidney Transplantation Therapy). Pathologica - Journal of the Italian Society of Anatomic Pathology and Diagnostic Cytopathology. 115, 4 (Sep. 2023), 199-204. DOI:https://doi.org/10.32074/1591-951X-858.
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