DEC 06, 2017 07:37 PM PST

Are Old Kidneys an Answer to the Organ Shortage?


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The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) tabulated that 122,563 people currently are in need of a lifesaving organ transplant. They estimate that on average, 22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant didn’t happen, because of a shortage in human organ donations.

To help alleviate the burden of the organ shortage, researchers are proposing to allow donations from more people, despite their age. In particular, a study reports that kidneys donated from people aged 65 and older are still in great condition and will function for years after transplantation. The bottom line? When it comes to donated kidneys, age may just be a number.

"Kidneys from an old donor may be favorably used, particularly in an age-matched patient," said Luigi Biancone, associate professor of nephrology at the University of Torino in Italy, and the study’s lead author.

Biancone and his team came to this conclusion after studying survival rates of transplanted organs from donors of varying age groups. Donors ranged in age from 50s, 60s, 70s, and even older than 80 years old. Of note, most kidney donations come from donors who are between 18 and 65 years old. People older than 65 years old are also eligible to donate; however, the medical scrutiny is stronger for this group.

In the study, Biancone and his team found that the age of the donor (and thus, the age of the kidney) isn’t correlated to the survival of the transplanted organ. That is, a kidney donated from a well-matched 80-year-old performed similarly to a matched kidney donated from someone under 65 years old.

"Age is not the sole criteria by which the outcomes of an organ or the quality of an organ should be judged," said David Klassen, chief medical officer of UNOS. "To exclude an organ just based on age is probably not appropriate.”

Of the 101,189 patients that currently await a kidney transplant, only about 16% of them will receive the organ while about 4.4% die waiting for the operation. The alternative has been dialysis therapy, but while effective, this process is highly disruptive, costly, and time-consuming for the patients.

Dispelling the myth that you’re too old to donate a kidney could open up a potential pool of viable organs for transplantation. Furthermore, the results of this study are consistent with another study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Hospital, which found that transplants from donors over 70 are safe and beneficial at reducing the national organ shortage.

Additional sources: CNN

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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