A University of Toledo-led project has won a competitive, $2 million federal grant for a pilot program that could increase the pool of available kidney donors.
The four-year grant by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality will fund work to fill in testing gaps for possible kidney donors. Insurance companies often end testing as soon as they learn a potential donor and recipient in a specific case aren't compatible. The project will pay for the testing to continue, and eventually match recipients across the country.
"The University of Toledo is proud to lead the way as we explore a truly innovative approach to improving the quality of life and saving the lives of those waiting for a kidney transplant," said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor and vice president for biosciences and health affairs at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
Dr. Michael Rees, a transplant surgeon at the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital, will lead work on the project. He is the founder of the Maumee-based Alliance for Paired Donation Inc. kidney exchange program, which matches willing, but incompatible, donors with compatible recipients.
Dr. Rees was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon because he was in surgery, UT spokesman Jon Strunk said. The university and the alliance will team up with the Southwest Transplant Alliance on the project.
Insurance companies profit on kidney transplants from the actual surgery, but the myriad tests that lead up to the surgery lose money for them. A good friend may be willing to donate a kidney to someone in need, and begin testing to see if they are compatible. If any of those tests show the pair aren't a good transplant match, testing stops.
Some donors only want to donate to familiar people, but for others willing to donate to anyone those stopped tests sever any possible link to someone in need.
U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) worked with the alliance and UT to advocate for the project.
"When a person is diagnosed with kidney disease, their loved ones are frequently eager to donate one of their own kidneys to save them, but far too often the volunteers are not a match with the ailing patient. Unfortunately, these healthy and willing potential donors' desire to help those in need never comes to fruition," Mr. Portman said in a statement.
"This innovative program will make sure that these volunteers' honorable gestures do not go to waste, matching willing donors with compatible recipients regionally and across the United States, thereby saving lives and reducing massive wait lists for organ donations."
Treatment for those who need kidney transplants can be expensive. Successful matches resulting in transplants could theoretically save significant amounts of money.
"The research competitively funded today by HHS will undoubtedly save many lives, in addition to saving Medicare millions of dollars," Ms. Kaptur said in a statement.
A nationwide model based on the pilot could add thousands of transplants a year.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: email@example.com or 419-724-6086.