Software Matches Kidneys To Hard Recipients

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The University of Michigan has developed an organ matching software program that offers new hope to patients needing a kidney transplant.

Often a patient who needs a kidney has a family member or friend willing to donate one of his or her kidneys, but it cannot be done due to tissue or blood type incompatibilities. The University of Michigan Transplant Center seeks to match these two people – an incompatible recipient/donor pair – with other pairs in the same situation, utilizing this U-M computer program.

The specialized computer program makes it possible for the donor from the first pair to donate to the recipient from the second pair, and the donor from the second pair donates to the recipient from the first pair.

"There are about a half dozen kidney paired donation matching programs throughout the country," says Alan Leichtman, M.D., medical director of Kidney Paired Donation Transplant Program at the University of Michigan. "U-M is distinguished in two ways: one way is that we are the largest single center pool and the second is our matching program is very efficient. It's designed to find kidneys for these people who are the most difficult to find kidney transplants for. Consequently, we are effective in transplanting those people who are the hardest to transplant."

A special bond is formed


Although strangers before they met in July, two married couples already shared a profound bond because they had surgically swapped kidneys after being matched by U-M's software. Both of the women had needed a new kidney. Their husbands were willing to donate one of theirs, but neither man could give a kidney to his own wife due to tissue incompatibilities.

After the software match was identified, the U-M transplant team determined that Dave Hedberg of Alto, Mich. could give a kidney to Lyn McKiernan-Karsten of Allegan, Mich., and Brian Karsten could give one to Dave's wife, Marilyn Hedberg.

"Dave is so generous to give a part of himself to someone he doesn't know. It's amazing that there are people out there who are so generous," McKiernan-Karsten says of her donor, Dave Hedberg. "I was extremely ill before the surgery. Afterwards, it's like a whole new life. I have some more energy and I'm able to do things I couldn't do before. It's incredible."

Since July 2008, the U-M Paired Kidney Donation program has given an additional opportunity for transplantation to people who need a kidney transplant and who have a willing but incompatible donor. The program also can match altruistic donors – people willing to donate without a recipient in mind – to potential recipients that would create a chain of transplants sometimes involving numerous recipients and donors.

The need for kidney transplantation has grown significantly over the past decade with over 76,500 patients currently waiting a kidney transplant. In 2007, only 10,587 kidney transplants were performed in the United States, and 4,443 people died waiting for a transplant. In Michigan the wait for a kidney from a deceased donor is currently about five years.

"There's not that many of these programs out there," says Marilyn Hedberg. "They are such a life saver for people because you know a lot of people who don't make it on the waiting list. So this is a real blessing."


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