An innovative approach to matching livers to patients in need aims to increase lifesaving transplants by expanding the number of living liver donations. United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) has launched the UNOS Liver Paired Donation (LPD) pilot program, the first nation-wide initiative facilitating liver paired donation matches; the project is led by UNOS Labs in collaboration with transplant and donation professionals from across the country.
Working to increase living liver transplants by pairing living donors and recipients
More than 10,000 people are currently waiting for a liver transplant, and increasing paired donation can make a difference. “The community recognized a critical need,” said Ruthanne Leishman, who manages UNOS paired donation programs. “While the idea of swapping livers is new, transplant programs have successfully been swapping kidneys since 2002.” Leishman was part of the UNOS team that initiated the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) Kidney Paired Donation (KPD) pilot program in 2010, at a time when there were fewer living liver donor transplants. Since that time, living liver donations have become safer and more viable, contributing to the development of living liver donation programs throughout the country. There were 603 living liver donor transplants in the United States in 2022.
Project brings experts together
The UNOS LPD pilot program includes 15 experienced transplant programs across the country who have together performed hundreds of living liver transplants over the years. “UNOS Labs has collaborated with a team of some of the most respected transplant professionals in the country. Working with this high caliber of transplant professionals has helped UNOS build a strong program that will increase living donor transplants,” said Leishman.
While some transplant hospitals have swapped livers within their own or neighboring hospitals, the UNOS LPD program now makes it possible to swap livers across the country. The larger pool of potential living donors means candidates can have increased access to living liver donations, and transplant hospitals have the opportunity to grow their living transplants programs through collaboration.
The first donor and recipient pair registered in the program are at UCHealth Transplant Center in Aurora, Colo., and are waiting for a match.
“The UNOS LPD program has totally shifted our frame of mind,” says Jaime Cisek, Living Donor Coordinator at UCHealth Transplant Center. “It used to be that if someone was incompatible because of their blood type, or there was a significant size discrepancy, then there was no point in working them up. Now, nobody is off the table. Now we’re able to consider that there is somebody out there who is compatible and make that swap.”
Financial assistance available
The UNOS LPD program offers living liver donors assistance with both medical and non-medical expenses related to donation, such as travel expenses, lost wages and dependent care. This financial assistance was made possible through a partnership with the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC) and a generous gift from living liver transplant recipient and UNOS financial supporter David Landes. “UNOS Labs has been pushing the envelope on liver paired donation,” said Landes. “You can see the creativity and innovation. It’s proactive on the part of UNOS, and I’m grateful to be a part of that.”
For more information on the UNOS LPD pilot program, please contact Ruthanne Leishman.
Saving lives together
UNOS Labs’ scientists, biostatisticians and developers collaborate with donation and transplantation experts to make lifesaving improvements to the system through research and experimentation.