Medical and surgical advances over the last fifty years have made kidney transplant the therapy of choice for people with chronic kidney disease. On average, kidney transplant patients live 10-15 years longer than patients on dialysis.

A lack of donations

But the wait time for a kidney can be long, upwards of three to five years depending on where the patient lives. There are more than 100,000 people on the waitlist, but only around 19,000 will receive a transplant this year. Last year more than 4,000 people died waiting.

The challenge to transplant surgeons and patient organizations focused on kidney disease is how to reduce that wait time; one idea is to reexamine what is being discarded to determine if those kidneys could be used for transplant. 

Deceased donors make up about two-thirds of the kidneys available for transplant but around 3,000 kidneys are discarded annually. While many are not suitable for transplantation, data suggests some kidneys would benefit a well-selected recipient.

 “Leaders in organ donation and transplantation estimate that 40 to 50 percent of kidneys discarded could be viable for transplant.”

Reevaluating the discards

The reasons for kidney discards vary from poor organ quality or function, abnormal biopsy findings, problems placing an organ in the allotted time, problems during surgical recovery of the organ or a transplant program’s fear of regulatory consequences or loss of insurer participation due to poor clinical outcomes. Discard rates also tend to vary based on geography. But what if some of these issues could be resolved?

Leaders in organ donation and transplantation estimate that 40 to 50 percent of kidneys discarded could be viable for transplant. While that may seem like a small number, if you or your loved one were the recipient of that kidney, it could make a big difference. By identifying the reasons donated kidneys are discarded, as well as practical solutions to increase the use of these kidneys, the number of successful kidney transplants could be greatly increased over time.