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Computer Software Matches Donors, Saves Lives

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:13pm

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Last week I had the pleasure of visiting my alma mater, The Medical College of Ohio.  It doesn't go by that name anymore. Today, due to a recent merger with the University of Toledo, it is known as the UT College of Medicine.

I was invited to the university to receive the medical college's "distinguished alumni award".  The award was presented to me Friday evening during the school's homecoming gala by Dr. Jeffrey Gold, provost and executive vice president, and Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo.  The recognition was a great honor for me, although it was a bit like getting a lifetime achievement award that is hopefully being received long before the job is done.

While at the university I also delivered a couple of lectures at the health sciences campus.  It was terrific to be in the company of students, medical residents, and faculty.  We had stimulating discussions about advancements in information technology and how all of this will impact medical education and the future practice of medicine.

SOFTWARE SAVING LIVES

image I was also fortunate to have a private meeting with Dr. Michael Rees (seen here lifted up by his grateful patients) professor of urology at UT College of Medicine.  Dr. Rees is a kidney transplant surgeon who has developed software that helps match " paired living donors".  As Dr. Rees explained, it costs about $80,000 a year to provide life sustaining dialysis to a patient with renal failure.  A kidney transplant costs about $100,000, if an organ is available.  A donated kidney that comes from a cadaver will last about 8 years.  A kidney that is provided by a living donor will last about twice that long.  Clearly, kidney transplants save money, and receiving one from a living donor is the better option.  However, making that option available is often a challenge. paired kidney donation

For instance, a wife (Donor 1) may be willing to donate a kidney to her husband (Recipient 1), but because of antibodies, blood type or other issues, the kidney isn't a good match.  What then?  Perhaps somewhere else in the country there is a husband (Donor 2) who is willing to donate to his wife (Recipient 2) but again, there isn't a good match.  But what if Donor 1 could donate to Recipient 2, and Donor 2 turned out to be a good match for Recipient 1?  Two families would benefit.  Furthermore, Dr. Rees says some people are willing to give up a kidney to help a complete stranger, provided that someone in the stranger's family is willing to "pay forward" with a donation of their own.

image The computer program developed by Dr. Rees, with assistance from his computer scientist father, factors in a number of variables such as the donor and potential recipient's age, how long the recipient has been waiting for a transplant, the physical location of donor and patient, blood types, antibodies and other factors to "optimize" all possible combinations for this life-giving transaction.  The software program is so complex that 600 matched pairs will bring down most ordinary computers, necessitating more powerful high-performance computing for full optimization. 

Dr. Rees is hoping to identify and process 400 living donors and patients who would be willing to participate in his paired donor program.  The program currently has 134 pairs.  At that level of participation, a logarithmic explosion in matched pairs becomes apparent, and a kind of daisy chain of life-giving transplantations could happen.  The program has already helped many people and has been featured on national news programs.  Dr. Rees gave one example of a recent living kidney donor who, with the help of the computer matching program, set off a daisy chain of transplants that benefitted 10 families.

WHAT YO image U CAN DO

To continue his work, Dr. Rees needs funding.  He has already completed version 2.0 of his software.  Now, he needs financial support to recruit and process more paired donors in order to reach that magical number of 400.   If you happen to be a tech millionaire or billionaire this would be a very worthy cause for your philanthropy.  Or perhaps we can raise what is needed virally if bloggers simply unite across the blogosphere and spread the word (please link to this post).

Dr. Rees needs to raise $1.3 million ($650,000 per year for 2 years).  His Alliance for Paired Donation is a 501c3 organization, so any donations would be tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

If you are serious and want to learn more, contact me by using the E-mail button at the top of this Blog and I will put you in touch with Dr. Rees.  Your donation will save lives!

Bill Crounse, MD  Senior Director, Worldwide Health     Microsoft Corporation

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