The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found the U.S. discards about 3,500 kidneys from deceased donors each year. The reason? The kidneys are considered to be of lower-quality — from older and “comorbid” donors, researchers said.
For the study, researchers compared kidney transplants in the U.S. and France over a 10-year period, from January 2004 to December 2014. By the end, they determined the discard rate of deceased-donor kidneys in the U.S. was about twice that of France.
More specifically, of the 156,089 kidneys collected from deceased donors in the U.S., 128,102 kidneys were transplanted while 27,987 were discarded (about 17.9 percent). Meanwhile, over the same period of time in France, 27,252 of the 29, 984 kidneys from deceased donors were transplanted, while only 2,732 were discarded — about 9.1 percent.
The researchers then used a computer simulation model to determine how many of the discarded kidneys in the U.S. would have been used in France.
“We applied the French-based allocation model to the population of U.S. deceased donor kidneys and found that 17,435 [62 percent] of kidneys discarded in the United States would have instead been transplanted under the French system,” researchers wrote.
“We further determined that a redesigned system with more aggressive organ acceptance practices would generate an additional 132,445 allograft life-years in the United States over the 10-year observation period,” they added.
According to researchers, about 5,000 people in the U.S. die each year waiting for a kidney transplant.
“Greater acceptance of kidneys from deceased donors who are older and have more comorbidities could provide major survival benefits to the population of US wait-listed patients,” they noted.
Additionally, they argue, when compared to dialysis — a treatment typically used when patients lose 85 to 90 percent of their kidney function — even the “lowest-quality kidneys” could lengthen a patient's lifespan.
“Policies designed to enhance the acceptance of donated kidneys in the United States could drive meaningful increases in the number of kidney transplants and bring the benefits of transplantation to thousands of wait-listed patients,” researchers concluded.