Big Data's Effect On Organ Transplant Wait Lists

Eli Epstein | Mashable | July 23, 2014

Of 28,594 organs transplanted in 2013, you haven’t heard about most. The stories of a few might go viral thanks to social media, but the vast majority of donated organs are harvested from deceased donors or taken from living donors in relative obscurity.  While the total number of organs transplanted seems like an impressive amount, nearly 18 people still die each day waiting for a new organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the private, non-profit organization that manages the U.S.’s organ transplant system under a contract with the federal government.

Faced with more than 120,000 people who need a life-saving organ and a constant shortage of donors, economists, doctors and mathematicians are teaming up with data to save lives.  The answer, they think, might be in the algorithm.

On a very basic level, the organ transplant process can be separated into two categories: organs taken from living donors and organs harvested from deceased donors. From living donors, doctors can take one of a person’s two kidneys, as well as part of his or her liver (the liver is a regenerative organ and will grow in both the donor and the recipient).  From a deceased donor, doctors are able to extract a cadaver’s kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, intestines and thymus...