Software Helping Find Organs For Transplant Patients

Friday, October 12th 2007, 7:54 pm
By: News On 6

More than 70,000 Americans need a kidney transplant, and 4,000 will die this year, waiting for a suitable organ to become available. News On 6 anchor Omar Villafranca reports now a revolutionary computer software program is matching live donors with those in need.

For the Repasky family, a healthy meal is one that's low in sodium, Marnie and Hal's sons have kidney disease.

"My oldest son has had two kidney transplants. My youngest has had two transplants," said mother Marnie Repasky.

Nineteen-year-old Nathan received his second kidney last year from his sister-in-law, Susan. The Repaskys are fortunate. Many times, patients and loved ones willing to donate have blood or tissue types that don't match.

When that happens, the incompatible donor and patient may agree to try paired kidney donation. Donor A would give a kidney to patient B, while donor B would give a kidney to patient A. Transplant experts say paired donation is successful, but is often difficult to coordinate. That's where computer scientist Tuomas Sandholm makes a difference. Sandholm designed computer software that finds multiple matches.

"It's a very complex problem of deciding exactly what kidney goes to whom," computer scientist Tuomas Sandholm said.

Algorithms already exist for two-way paired donation, but Sandholm's program keeps doing the math. It calculates the most efficient way to exchange the kidneys, resulting in multiple possible combinations. For example, donor A would donate to patient B, donor B would give a kidney to patient C, donor C would go to patient D, and so on, up to four or five-way swaps, where the last donor would give an organ to patient A.

Last December, a network of 55 transplant centers began using the software.

"This really is the enabling technology to get a nationwide kidney exchange going," Sandholm said.

For the thousands of families impacted by kidney disease, it's welcome news.

"Time is such a precious commodity to everybody. But with somebody who needs a transplant, it's even more so," kidney recipient Nathan Repasky said.

Sandholm's algorithm can analyze 10,000 donor and patient pairs. He said existing algorithms were only able to handle data from 900 pairs.

Watch the video: Kidney Exchange