Toshiko Linton

Kidney transplant recipient Toshiko Linton (right), with Surgical Director Stefan Tullius (left)

Dr. Stefan Tullius, Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), believes that recent BWH research could provide the impetus for a major change in how organ donors and recipients are matched, and that being older, at least for transplant recipients, can indeed be better.

A team of researchers from BWH Transplant Surgery and Renal Medicine analyzed data from more than 100,000 patients who received kidney transplants between 1995 and 2008 to find that matching donor and recipient age significantly improves outcomes. Tullius, who led the study, is optimistic that this finding could ultimately lead to an improved donor matching process.

“Right now, 70-year-old patients are competing with 20-year-old patients for the same organs,” Tullius said. “Our research supports a proposal to change the way that we allocate donor organs. We’ve found that when the donor and recipient are more closely matched in age, we are using each organ in the most efficient and best way.”

The research also found that donated organs tend to survive better in older patients. This finding has been attributed to a reduced immune response in older patients, which leads to lower rates of organ rejection.

Considering that more than half of the patients in the U.S. waiting for a kidney transplant are over the age of 50, and that more than half of all transplanted kidneys come from donors 50 years or older, these findings could have a tremendous impact on overall kidney transplant success, or for that matter, any organ transplant success.

Toshiko Linton, 82, is a kidney transplant recipient whose situation represents the ideal for Dr. Tullius.

In the spring of 2010, at the age of 80, Toshiko received a transplanted kidney, and, following a short and smooth recovery, has been living a happy and active life. Tullius, her surgeon, believes that her relatively easy recovery was largely due to her receiving a kidney from a donor close to her age. “Because she was close in age to the donor, she required fewer anti-rejection medications and had a very positive transplant outcome,” says Tullius.

And being determined not to waste her gift, she and her husband planned a particularly special trip for this year. In addition to travelling to Hawaii to enjoy the sunshine and to see their daughter, they returned to Japan to visit the shrine where they were married more than 60 years ago.

Such success offers hope to patients like Toshiko who would rather be on a beach than on a dialysis machine.

– Chris P

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