More than 107,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Studies of the current organ transplant system report disparities in terms of race, socioeconomic status, insurance type, and candidate location.
With a grant  from the National Institutes of Health, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Mason and Inova Health System are developing a framework for optimizing organ allocations for patients awaiting transplants.
The new system seeks to minimize some of these disparities by providing decision makers with an interactive geographic information system-based website that visualizes real-time geographical boundaries of organ distribution areas and alleviates disparities.
The system takes into account current procedures such as prioritizing those candidates with a higher medical urgency and ensuring compatibility with organs that become available. Using a simulation optimization technique developed by Mason systems engineer Chun-Hung Chen, the system will help authorities evaluate alternatives and determine the best organ allocation decision more efficiently.
“Where people live should have little influence on their ability to receive a transplant,” says Nigel Waters, Mason professor of geography and geoinformation science. “Our goal is to take geographic disparities out of the organ distribution system so that patients can lead a better life, no matter where they live.”
While the researchers will focus on adult liver transplants for their framework, the system could be adjusted to establish an equivalent framework for other organs or children’s transplants.
“We hope that our proposed framework will eventually lead to an improved and fairer decision-making process for the allocation of organs,” says Naoru Koizumi, assistant professor of public policy and the principal investigator on the grant.
—Jim Greif, MPA ’07