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A Call to Action to Help Reduce the Waiting List for Organ Transplants

The White House OSTP is inviting ideas and submissions on ways to reduce the organ waiting list.

This spring, when presenting the National Medals in Science and Technology, President Obama said that “America’s progress in science and technology has countless revolutionary discoveries within our reach”, noting that “ending the wait for organ transplants… [is] some of what America can do.”

There are currently 120,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. Every day, 22 Americans die waiting. We can change that.

Consider this: the contractor for the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network estimates that we might currently be using as little as one-fifth of the available deceased donor pool. If we can access even a fraction of that potential, then we could significantly reduce the waiting list for organs in America.

Or consider this: new technology is helping patients tell their stories and find living donors through social media. An early use of this technology showed that patients were six times more likely to find a living donor with a tool that helped them share their story on social media than without. If technology and educational tools can increase the annual number of living donors by six-fold, then it may be possible for an additional 36,000 transplants to happen each year. That, in and of itself, could address the number of new patients added to the kidney waiting list annually.

Innovation can reduce the organ waiting list. At the recent White House Organ Summit, organ procurement organizations, transplant centers, patient advocacy groups, foundations, health care and technology companies, universities, and Federal agencies announced new and expanded efforts to do so.

The Department of Defense has committed to changing what is possible for veterans—and all patients—by launching a new manufacturing institute in advanced tissue biofabrication, which will carry with it an investment of at least $160 million to move closer to a world where tissue repair and manufacturing organs are within reach.

It is critical to keep investing in organ preservation and bioengineering, so that people who are added to the organ waiting list in the future have better options than they do now.  For example, consider that most organs can only be stored for 3 to 12 hours, which means that many viable transplant organs are discarded. If even half of all unused donated hearts and lungs could reach transplant patients in time, experts estimate that the waiting list for hearts and lungs could end in 2 to 3 years. The Administration is interested in hearing from you about new concrete actions your organization is taking to:

  • Ensure that the 95 percent of Americans who support organ donation have easy ways to share their wishes with next of kin through registrations and social declarations and that those wishes are easily searchable by all 58 organ procurement organizations around the country;
  • Use data as efficiently and effectively as possible, so that both organ procurement organizations (OPOs) and transplant centers are best equipped to maximize the number of successful transplants;
  • Push the boundaries of what is possible to use the precious resource of donated organs through the use of organs that would have previously been discarded;
  • Empower patients to know their options in a timely way—particularly with regards to living donation—so that appropriate educational tools help patients access donation services;
  • Ensure that living donors who wants to provide a loved one with a life-saving transplant are not precluded from doing so due to the costs that can accompany donation, such as travel expenses and lost wages;
  • Develop new systems and protocols to maximize the use of live donor kidneys through more national coordination of kidney paired donation chains and through increased successful use of incompatible organs in transplantation;
  • Invest in clinical research and innovation that could potentially increase the number of transplants and improve outcomes for patients; and
  • Facilitate breakthrough research and development in areas such as organ preservation, transplantation, immunosuppression, and bioengineering.

If you have new, specific, and measurable steps to help patients or prospective living donors, please send them in here by October 1.

Jennifer Erickson is the Assistant Director of Innovation for Growth at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Robbie Barbero is Assistant Director for Biological Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Megan Brewster is Senior Policy Advisor for Advanced Manufacturing at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.