The study of a series of chain transplantations performed from February 2008 to June 2011 at 57 centers nationwide included 272 kidney transplants that paired organ donors who were incompatible with their relatives with strangers providing organs for altruistic reasons or with others donating an organ to an unknown patient because they were not a match for their own relatives.
"Of all living donor kidney transplants performed in the United States in 2011, only 33 percent were to ethnic minorities. So the fact that nearly 50 percent of the chain transplants were ethnic minorities is a real game changer," said senior study author Doctor Jeffrey Veale of University of California - Los Angeles. "This collaborative team has been able to show that with donor chains we can broaden, increase and diversify the population of patients who can receive kidney transplants."
"We were incredibly happy with the results," said study first author Doctor Marc Melcher of Stanford University. "It demonstrates that through the cooperation of altruistic strangers we can generate multiple transplants and reduce the competition for deceased organs."
The study notes that the larger percentage of minority recipients may be a result of large urban centers with more ethnic diversity actively participating in chains.
"About 30 percent of patients needing a kidney transplant discover that their friends and relatives are incompatible as donors. Donor chains create opportunities for potentially endless donor-recipient pairings," Melcher said.
A chain can start when an altruistic donor generously donates a kidney to a stranger on dialysis. This recipient's original incompatible willing donor then passes on the generosity to another patient on dialysis to keep the chain going, essentially "paying it forward," and the process can be repeated to extend the chain further.
Donated kidneys can remain outside the body on ice for prolonged periods of time, allowing the organs to be shipped via commercial airlines to recipients in another state. This expands the donor pool for difficult-to-match patients awaiting transplants, like many included in this study.
About 92,000 people currently are on the kidney transplant waiting list in the United States, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. California alone has more than 16,000 people on the list. Patients often can wait more than a decade for a suitable organ, and about 19 percent of those on the waiting list are seeking their second, third or fourth kidneys.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences