The need for donor livers outstrips their supply. Each year, about one-third of those with end-stage liver disease who need an organ will receive one. Some die while on the waiting list.
The February issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings examines how the current system for allocating organs in the United States affects recipients’ outcomes.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) oversees organ allocation. With the goal of giving organs to the most critically ill transplant candidates, UNOS adopted the MELD — Model for End-Stage Liver Disease — scoring system in 2002. The score is calculated from the results of three lab tests.
“Unlike past evaluation systems, the MELD score de-emphasizes the length of time a patient has been waiting for a donor organ. … Research has shown that although the donor liver shortage persists, implementing this allocation system has decreased the number of patients who die while waiting for donor organs,” according to a Mayo Clinic press release.
The study looked at the evaluation practices and acceptance criteria for liver transplant used by the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville Transplant Center after implementation of MELD scoring. Researchers examined medical records from 555 patients referred for liver transplants at the Jacksonville center from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2005. Of these patients, 53 percent were denied for a transplant. Half of those denied were considered too early to have the procedure, while the rest were excluded because of medical conditions and psychosocial issues — poor support systems or continuing substance abuse problems, for example.
Many were subsequently accepted.
“Patients seeking referral often undergo repeated assessments by selection committees, as their eligibility can change over time or following treatment and/or changes in conditions that led to their initial exclusion,” according to the release.
Data suggest a “broad range” of patients could benefit from early referral to a transplant center, according to the release.
Basically, management of their disease and other medical and psychosocial conditions could make them transplant candidates sooner.
To read the report, click here.
People seldom realize transplant waiting lists are anything but static: They constantly change, depending on organ availability and patients’ medical states. They’re definitely moving targets. People move up, they move down; they drop off, they’re added back.
“Our study suggests that early referral for LT (liver transplant) evaluation is beneficial for reasons unrelated to the time patients spend on the LT waiting list. If patients too early for LT were evaluated but not listed, LT centers could initiate management of ESLD (end-stage liver disease) and address psychosocial issues in a sub-group of patients who could also ultimately benefit from LT,” the authors wrote.
Although not exactly the same thing, last month I wrote about this man, Dr. Ludvik Artinyan, left, who registered on organ waiting lists in California and Oklahoma. He was able to receive a liver transplant quicker by traveling to Integris Baptist Medical Center to have the procedure performed rather than having it done in Los Angeles. Because patients’ MELD scores typically are higher in California for various reasons, double-listing likely allowed the Armenia-born physician to shave months off his wait time and perhaps saved his life.
UNOS allows potential transplant recipients to be listed in multiple regions — they must meet each site’s criteria and be ready to respond to the phone call or page when an organ becomes available.
Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer