Better Matchmaking Redefines Rules of Organ Compatibility

In Brief:

  • Currently, 119,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list
  • Organ donors and recipients must be “matched” before a transplant
  • Antibody testing may allow for more successful transplants

In a world as fast-paced as ours, simply waiting in a long line at the supermarket can feel like a death sentence. Imagine if, instead of a line at the store, you were on an endless waiting list for an organ transplant you desperately needed. Currently, 119,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list with another name added every 10 minutes. While we may groan about supermarket lines or stalling traffic, for these 119,000 Americans, waiting really can be a death sentence.

However, researchers like Dr. Prakash Rao stand defiantly in the face of stalling science and ask, “what’s the holdup?” Dr. Rao is the Vice President of Diagnostics & Research Operations and the Director of the Transplant Laboratory at the NJ Sharing Network, a non-profit organization for organ recovery and placement. He and other researchers from the NJ Sharing Network are working to change the grim reality of the transplant waiting list by making the organ matching process more efficient.

The matching process between potential organ donors and recipients is a lot like dating. The organ donor and recipient must be compatible, otherwise, the recipient’s body will reject the donor’s organ. First, individuals are selected based on various criteria such as blood type, tissue type, and medical urgency of the patient. Once all these factors align, a final test called a crossmatch is performed. In this “transplant in a test tube,” as Dr. Rao calls it, samples of the donor and recipient’s blood are mixed to see if the recipient’s antibodies will attack the donor’s cells. Antibodies are immune cells that act like soldiers that defend our bodies against harmful foreign invaders. If the recipient’s antibodies are likely to attack, then the transplant will not be successful.

Current Criteria for Organ Matching

Dr. Rao is currently researching a way to make the match process more specific so that transplants can occur even when the crossmatch results predict rejection. He believes that although the test may indicate ominous recipient-donor interactions, certain antibodies will not attack. Dr. Rao works specifically with Immunoglobulin G or IgG antibodies. There are four subtypes of IgG antibodies — IgG1, IgG2, IgG3, and IgG4 — out of which only IgG1 and IgG3 attack foreign cells, while IgG2 and IgG4 usually do not. Essentially, IgG2 and IgG4 are soldiers on guard that never make a move. Therefore, if only IgG2 and IgG4 antibodies are present, transplants can still occur.

Dr. Rao and his team are working tirelessly to define a specific test that determines which antibodies are present in a patient’s blood sample. If they succeed, about 10,000 more transplants can be carried out per year.

We can rest assured that Dr. Rao will not give up. Waking up at 2:30 a.m. every day, he quotes Robert Frost with great pride: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep. And lives to save before I sleep.” With his research and perseverance, Dr. Rao’s work will likely save thousands of lives. Although those on the transplant list must wait for now, they are not without hope. After all, Dr. Rao’s not waiting around.

Works Cited

  1. “Organ Donation Statistics.” Organ Donation Statistics: Why be an Organ Donor?
    Accessed August 20, 2016.
  2. “Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.” Learn about the Donor Matching
    System – OPTN. Accessed August 20, 2016.
  3. Dr. Prakash Rao, Ph.D., MBA, FACHE, HCLD (Vice President of Diagnostics &
    Research Operations and Director of Transplant Laboratory) in discussion with the
    author, August 2016.

Image Credits:
Feature Image:
Graphic by Staff Illustrator, Aparna Kumar

Story Image:
Graphic by Staff illustrator, Selena Liu

  1. “Flag map of the contiguous United States” by Anonymous (Edited). License: CC BY-SA 3.0
  2. “Marble Pattern” by Anonymous (Edited). License: CC BY 3.0

Chief Editor: Aparna Ragupathi
Creative Team Coordinator: Sreya Das
Team Editor: Manasa Gadiraju
Team Graphic Designer: Aparna Kumar

This article was written by Varsha Garla. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cSw Editorial Staff

Varsha Garla

Author: Varsha Garla

Hello, readers! Thank you for taking the time to read my article! curiousSCIENCEwriters has allowed me to come across the most fascinating research in the rapidly advancing field of biomedical research, so I hope you too were able to learn something interesting. As a student at a STEM vocational high school, I love science, and I hope to pursue a career in medicine. However, the right, imaginative and creative hemisphere of my brain has always challenged its logical and linear counterpart, hence my love of writing. Because I strongly believe that magic is created when disciplines cross, I joined curiousSCIENCEwriters, which has fostered and developed my interests in both science and writing. When I’m not writing, you can catch me reading, dancing, singing, participating in my Student Government, and raising awareness about organ and tissue donation. Thank you again for reading my article!

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    This is a very clearly written explanation of a complex and important subject that can touch many lives. Thank you

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      Thank you! It is indeed an important subject, and I hope more people can learn about the science behind the match process as well as organ and tissue donation itself!

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    Dr. Rao’s perseverance is simply awe-inspiring! Good job on crafting such a concise yet entertaining article 🙂

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      I whole-heartedly agree! His drive and passion amaze me! Thanks for the kind feedback!

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    Varsha what an interesting article. I had no idea this organization existed. I have a genetic kidney condition and was originally told I would probably lose both of my kidneys, so a kidney transplant would have been a possibility for me. Luckily my condition didn’t and hopefully won’t cause me to lose my kidneys but I still am mindful of how stressful this option would have been. Anything that can make more organs available is a good thing. Your article did a very good job of explaining the work done by this organization as well as what is going on in their research labs to make the transplant process available to more people in need of an organ.

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      Debra, thank you! I am an active volunteer with NJ Sharing Network which does incredible work to not only promote organ and tissue donation, but support all donor and recipient families that are impacted. My own father had a kidney transplant so I understand how you must have felt. I’m glad you are healthy now and wish you all the best! I too believe in the importance of making more organs available, and I am eager to see how we advance the science to make this possible!

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    Interesting and compelling article; love the visuals as well!

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    VarshBabes!!!!! You’re amazing and an inspiration for all. The work that you are doing is passionate and is the reason I have faith in this younger generation.

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