Advances in Medical Science Allow for More Types of Organ Transplants

With advances in medical science and education on organ donation there are more types of organ transplants being done, and more donors willing to give the …

The medical science of organ transplantation is still relatively in its infancy, the first known organ transplant was of a cornea and was performed in 1906. Considering the tools available and conditions of operating facilities at the time this is truly amazing. It would be a long time before major organs were able to be transplanted with the first successful kidney transplant being performed in 1954 when a identical twin gave a kidney to his sibling as a living donor. A transplant being done between fraternal twins in 1959 followed this relatively quickly. The door had been opened to this lifesaving operation and things began to progress quickly and in 1960  a successful kidney transplant was done between siblings who were not twins. Over the next three years the first liver, lung and kidney transplants performed with organs recovered from deceased donors were successfully completed, the modern age of organ transplantation had been entered in the same decade as man going to the moon.

With the skills and techniques learned from these groundbreaking operations the 1960’s saw the first successful pancreas, liver and heart transplant performed, as well as the first double transplant with a combination of kidney and pancreas transplant being successfully completed. The success of these operations led to the establishment of the New England Organ Bank in Boston, Massachusetts. This organization became the first (OPO) organ procurement organization. This also coincided with the definition of brain death based on neurological activity by a Havard HOC committee, allowing for organs to be procured from donors who still had blood pumping in their system.

The most significant breakthrough in the 70’s was the discovery of cyclosporine’s ability to suppress the immune system, which helps to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs and successfully increased the success rate. The 80’s were as much about legislative and community changes concerning organ donation as they were about medical science advances. The UDDA Uniform Determinatino of Death Act, which defined death in a way that benefitted organ donation, was passed in combination with the AMA (American Medical Association) and the ABA (American Bar Assocation. The FDA approved drugs that made it easer for doctors to perform organ transplants and the National Organ Tissue Donor Awareness week was declared by Congress, raising awareness in the general population about the effectiveness of organ transplants and the need for organ donors. The 1980’s also saw the first heart and lung transplant performed and the first lung transplant recipient to live more than six years. Perhaps one of the most significant legislative breakthroughs was Medicare incorporating heart transplants into its health coverage. The decade ended with the first intestine transplant being completed. At this time most of the organs we see being transplanted today had been accomplished, but the survival rate and quality of life for organ donor recipients continues to raise as techniques improved.

The success of individuals involved in the field of organ transplants was recognized in 1990 with the Nobel Prize awarded to Dr. Joseph E. Murray and Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, pioneers in kidney and bone marrow transplants respectively. Dr. Murray performed the first successful kidney transplant in the 50’s and Dr. Thomas performed the first bone marrow transplant in the 60’s.

The momentum gained in the 80’s continued in the 90’s with Congress authorizing the mailing of organ and tissue donation information with income tax refunds, and Medicare requiring hospitals to notify the organ procurement organization of imminent deaths. Outside the United States the first hand transplant was performed in France and South Africa saw continued success with heart transplants.

With the new millennium advances in science and the social conscious began to progress so fast that to try and document the achievements here would be impossible, but a few highlights include. April being designated as National Donate Life Month and the national Gift of Life Donation Iniative as well as smaller organizations rising up to promote donor awareness such as the chris klug foundation and End The Wait! launched by the National Kidney Foundation. One of the most telling signs of the advancement of organ transplantation is that the number of living donors is now exceeding the number of people waiting for an organ!