Why Our Current Organ Transplant System Doesn't Work

heart in hands

The first organ was transplanted in 1954, saving lives and forever changing how we treat illness affected by organ failure.

Since then we’ve made major strides and saved countless lives, but our current system of human-to-human organ transplantation is failing.

These are the statistics from DonateLife America:

  • More than 114,000 men, women and children currently need life-saving organ transplants.
  • Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.
  • An average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant.
  • In 2011, there were 8,127 deceased organ donors and 6,017 living organ donors resulting in 28,535 organ transplants.
  • Last year, more than 42,000 grafts were made available for transplant by eye banks within the United States.
  • According to research, 98% of all adults have heard about organ donation and 86% have heard of tissue donation.
  • 90% of Americans say they support donation, but only 30% know the essential steps to take to be a donor.

There are multiple reasons why human-to-human transplantation is a problem. The donor needs to be healthy, needs to have donated their body to organ donation, needs to have died or be about to die from something that hasn’t damaged their organs, and their immune system has to match up well with the recipient.

The biggest problem is that there aren’t enough people who are healthy, dying and want to donate their organs.

“In the last 10 years, the number of patients requiring an organ has doubled, while at the same time the actual number of transplants has barely gone up,” Anthony Atala, a researcher at Wake Forest, said in a TED talk in 2011. “This is now a public health crisis.”

Once a person does get an organ, there’s always the threat of rejection — when a person’s immune system reacts negatively to the new organ and mounts an immune reaction to it, essentially kicking it out of the body. To stop this from happening, organ recipients are put on drugs that suppress the immune system, opening them up for infections the rest of their lives.

Read what goes into creating lab-grown organs >
See how far along researchers are in creating lab-grown organs >
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