What we do:

Solving the Organ Donor Shortage


The Challenge

In the United States, more than 100,000 patients are on the waiting list to receive an organ transplant. Many of those patients will have to wait a very long time (up to 10 years in some parts of the country) to receive an organ transplant. This lack of donors is a problem in all types of solid organ transplant. 

We must develop a solution to this problem. We need to increase living donation rates to solve the kidney organ donor shortage. We need to develop other solutions for liver, lung, heart, pancreas, and small bowel transplant. Since the number of people dying each year who can donate their organs is relatively consistent, the number of potential organs available is close to being reached. This number may actually decrease over time with innovations in technology such as self-driving (autonomous) cars.  Most analysis suggest that autonomous vehicles will eventually prevent over half of the 35,000 deaths that occur on American roads each year. This is clearly a good thing but it will have a negative impact on organ transplantation. We at the Terasaki Research Institute are working in many ways toward solutions to solve the organ donor shortage. 


33,000 transplants are performed each year in the US but approximately 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant and over 100,000 are still waiting for a transplant.


The Opportunity

Less than one-third of the 6,500+ dialysis centers in the United States have a formal transplant education program in operation. Therefore, many dialysis patients do not learn about their transplant options, particularly patients who are ethnic minorities. The chance of a dialysis patient being alive after five years without a transplant is only 40%. This means that many patients that are currently dialysis patients do not have adequate information to make an informed decision. With proper education, many of these patients may go on to find and receive a transplant from a living donor. This decreases their risk fo death and takes them off the waiting list allowing others who do not have a living donor a higher likelhood of getting a deceased donor transplant.
Since living donor transplant is only a viable option for kidney transplant, we need to have different solutions for other types of organ transplant. For all types of transplants, it would be better to delay or not need a transplant. This has been the case in intestinal transplant over the past decade. Better nutritional support and knowledge has allowed patients to do better as an intestinal failure patient delaying the need for an organ transplant in many cases.

The Strategy

Inspiring and educating the general population about KIDNEY transplant and living donation

Educating providers and patients as soon as possible about the opportunity to receive a transplant, specifically a living donor kidney transplant, is critical to patients’ long-term survival. To educate the most people possible in effective ways, the Terasaki Research Institute will leverage trans-disciplinary research perspectives that draw from health services, education design and delivery, economics, behavioral science and outcomes research.  

Amy D. Waterman, PhD, leads this initiative. Dr. Waterman is Deputy Director of the Terasaki Research Institute's Transplant Research and Education Center and an Associate Professor of Medicine in UCLA's Division of Nephrology. She runs a team of researchers that work to inspire and educate people about kidney transplantation and living donation. In addition, her team designs patient-centered health measures for transplant, works to reduce racial disparities in transplant, and is developing education to help ensure transplant medication adherence. The group’s ultimate vision, and Dr. Waterman’s passion, is to increase transplant and living donation rates and solve the kidney donor shortage. Find out more about two of her programs: Explore Transplant and Explore Living Donation. 


Understanding the diseases that lead to TRANSPLANT

A better understanding of pre-transplant disease and new solutions to prolong survival without a transplant are areas of focus for TRI. In addition to trying to understand immunological processes, the post-transplant period is also a good area to study organ disease to a new organ. The impact and mechanism of recurrent disease, diabetes, and other diseases that lead patients to transplant can be studied post-transplant. The Terasaki Research Institute will leverage post-transplant data and collaborate with partners studying pre-transplant diseases to gain a better understanding and deliver better solutions for many diseases. 

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