The Advancement of Organ Transplantation
Over the course of several decades, the field of organ transplantation has advanced significantly from its experimental beginnings and has evolved into one of the most progressive, complex, and uniquely challenging areas of modern-day healthcare. A landmark event occurred in 1954—namely, the first successful kidney transplant between identical twin brothers—and, since that time, researchers and clinicians have achieved new insights and milestones in the realm of transplantation. Through the years, these experts have developed protocols and surgical approaches that promote long-term survival, as well as an enhanced quality of life, among patients of all ages.
Notably, the discovery of immunosuppressive medications in the 1960s enabled organ transplantation to become the standard of care for individuals affected by a range of conditions and illnesses. Today, transplantation represents a life-saving form of treatment for many people in the final stages of organ failure, with liver, pancreas, heart, and lung transplants now producing very positive short- and long-term health outcomes. Even as researchers continue to develop and test new therapies for various types of organ dysfunction, transplantation still represents the most effective form of treatment for many illnesses.
As stated above, many hopes and visions have been realized in the field of organ transplantation, and yet there remain significant issues, obstacles, and needs. For example:
The number of people in end-stage organ failure has increased over the last two decades. Currently, 114,041 patients are waiting to receive organs. (Of note, the average waiting periods for liver and kidney transplants are, respectively, 15 months and more than five years.) Consequently, far too many people are dying while they wait to receive a necessary organ transplant. Those most seriously affected by these issues are uninsured patients and members of minority groups.
Immunosuppressive medications—powerful tools for preventing the rejection of a transplanted organ—do present complications. These medications are often toxic to the kidneys and, over time, may cause cancer. Therefore, transplantation experts are working to achieve the goal of successfully transplanting organs without the recipients’ requiring immune suppressants over the long term.