History of transplantation

Saving lives together

In 1954, the kidney was the first human organ to be transplanted successfully. Until the early 1980s, the potential of organ rejection limited the number of transplants performed. Medical advances in the prevention and treatment of rejection led to more successful transplants and an increase in demand.

Today, the U.S. system for organ donation and recovery is among the best in the world. As a result of innovation and continuous improvement, more patients in need of organ transplant than ever have received the gift of life.

United Network for Organ Sharing
Founded to help the donation and transplant community make the best possible use of organs to save lives, UNOS continues this work using technology innovations, behavioral research and data science to equitably increase organ utilization. Learn more about the history of UNOS and how we are increasing transplants.

The beginning

In 1954, the kidney was the first human organ to be transplanted successfully. Liver, heart and pancreas transplants were successfully performed by the late 1960s, while lung and intestinal organ transplant procedures were begun in the 1980s.

From the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, individual transplant hospitals and organ procurement organizations managed all aspects of organ recovery and transplantation. If an organ couldn’t be used at hospitals local to the donor, there was no system to find matching candidates elsewhere. Many organs couldn’t be used simply because transplant teams couldn’t locate a compatible recipient in time.

blue circle with line icon of kidney
1954

First successful kidney transplant performed.

light blue circle with line icon of a kidney and a pancreas
1966

First simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplant performed.

teal circle with line icon of liver
1967

First successful liver transplant performed.

Organ matching system

In 1968, the Southeast Organ Procurement Foundation (SEOPF) is formed as a membership and scientific organization for transplant professionals. In 1977, SEOPF implements the first computer-based organ matching system, dubbed the “United Network for Organ Sharing.”

red circle with line icon of heart
1968

First successful isolated pancreas transplant performed.

First successful heart transplant performed.

Until the early 1980s, the potential of organ rejection limited the number of transplants performed. Medical advances in the prevention and treatment of rejection led to more successful transplants and an increase in demand.

24/7 assistance to place organs

In 1982, SEOPF establishes the Kidney Center, the predecessor of the UNOS Organ Center, for round-the-clock assistance in placing donated organs.

reddish-purple circle with line icon of heart and lungs
1981
First successful heart-lung transplant performed.
1983

First successful single-lung transplant performed.

Cyclosporine, the first of a number of drugs that effectively treat organ rejection by suppressing the human immune system, introduced.

NOTA and UNOS

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 (NOTA) established the framework for a national organ recovery and allocation system in the private sector. The goal of this system is to help ensure the organ allocation process is carried out in a fair and efficient way, leading to an equitable distribution of donated organs based on medical criteria.

Also in 1984, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) separates from SEOPF and is incorporated as a non-profit member organization. In 1986, UNOS receives the initial federal contract to operate the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

icon of balanced scales for equality
1984

National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) passed.

purple circle with line icon of lungs
1986

First successful double-lung transplant performed.

magenta circle with line icon of intestines
1987

First successful intestinal transplant performed.

UNOS begins collecting medical data on donor and transplant recipients.

teal circle with line icon of liver
1988

First split-liver transplant performed.

teal circle with line icon of liver
1989

First successful living donor liver transplant performed.

purple circle with line icon of lungs
1990

First successful living donor lung transplant performed.

Data and technology

In 1992, UNOS prepares first-ever comprehensive report on transplant survival rates for all active U.S. transplant centers.

In 1996, UNOS creates TIEDI®, a new application that collects data electronically, eliminating the step of mailing paper forms to the OPTN.

In 1999, UNOS launches UNetSM, a secure, Internet-based transplant information database system for all organ matching and management of transplant data.

In 2006, UNOS launches DonorNet®, a secure, Internet-based system in which organ procurement coordinators send out offers of newly donated organs to transplant hospitals with compatible candidates.

Learn how UNOS technology enables transplants.

1992

UNOS helps found Donate Life America to build public support for organ donation.

teal circle with line icon of liver
1998

First successful adult-to-adult living donor liver transplant performed.

Breaking records

In 2001 the total of living organ donors for the year (6,528) exceeds the number of deceased organ donors (6,081).

For the first time, the total of living organ donors for the year (6,528) exceeds the number of deceased organ donors (6,081).

In 2017, the number of deceased donors top 10,000 in the U.S.

The number of deceased donors top 10,000 in the United States for the first time.

2020 sets all-time high for most lives saved by deceased organ donors.

2020: Most lives ever saved by deceased donors. 6% increase in deceased donors over 2019. More than 33,000 life-saving transplants from deceased donors. 10th record year in a row for deceased donation. Based on OPTN data as of 01/11/21. Data subject to change based on future data submission or correction.

icon of balanced scales for equality
2000

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes Final Rule (federal regulation) for the operation of the OPTN.

teal circle with line icon of liver
2001

For the first time, the total of living organ donors for the year exceeds the number of deceased organ donors.

brown-green circle with letters VCA
2014

Vascularized composite allografts (VCAs) is added to the definition of organs covered by federal regulation (the OPTN Final Rule) and legislation (the National Organ Transplant Act). The designation went into effect on July 3, 2014.

brown-green circle with letters VCA
2017

The number of deceased donors top 10,000 in the United States for the first time.

UNOS is committed to increasing transplants

Today, the U.S. system for organ donation and recovery is among the best in the world. As a result of innovation and continuous improvement, more patients in need of organ transplant than ever have received the gift of life. But there is more that we can and must do to serve the patients still waiting for a lifesaving organ.

Learn more about the history of UNOS and how we are increasing transplants.

The U.S. transplant system saves more lives than any other country in the world.
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