Donate Organs for Research: The Future Depends on It

When people donate their organs, they generally think they'll be saving someone's life through transplantation. But what happens when an organ isn't suitable for transplant? If you think those organs are still saving lives, you're right.


For a number of reasons, not all organs are viable for transplant. Issues such as a donor's age or medical history, or an organ abnormality, might limit their feasibility. However, these organs are often very practical for use in research.

"People need to understand that these organs will still be used in a way that saves lives and advances medicine," says Roni Lawrence, clinical manager at the UW Health Organ Procurement Organization. "The future of transplant medicine really depends on research, and organs are imperative to that research."

Groundbreaking treatment options, such as islet cell transplantation, rely on organs donated to research. What was once a theory - that the islet cells could be secured from the pancreas and inserted into the liver to reproduce - is now an applied treatment for Type 1 diabetics who suffer unawareness episodes.


At UW Hospital and Clinics, several islet cell transplant recipients have effectively been cured of their Type I diabetes and no longer require insulin. Without years of research, and the numerous pancreata donated, this treatment would not exist.

"Just about any organ can be used for research, if it is deemed suitable by the research agency," adds Lawrence. "The priority is always for transplantation, but research creates opportunities to use more donated organs. People appreciate knowing they are still giving an important gift."

Studies such as lung rejection management, heart transplant using cardiac death donor hearts and improving the viability of organs in transit are ongoing, and rely heavily on donated organs. The UW Health Organ Procurement Organization is meeting national performance measure goals for research organs per donor, having doubled their efforts in the last six months.

Adds Lawrence, "When people donate organs, they're helping both the patient who receives their live-saving transplant right away, and the next generation of recipients who will recover sooner and live longer because of the research happening today."