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White House, private sector act to reduce organ transplant waiting list

A device being tested by TransMedics Co. preserves organs for transplantation by keeping them warm and perfused with blood and other fluids. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Washington Post)
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The White House and a group of universities, companies and nonprofits announced new steps Monday to reduce the wait time for an organ transplant, including a $160 million Pentagon program to develop ways to repair and replace cells and tissue.

The moves include two new research efforts to increase the number of transplants in the United States by nearly 2,000 a year. More than 30 transplant centers have agreed to share information on kidney transplants for patients who are difficult to match. In addition, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will launch a study of organ transplants between HIV-positive donors and recipients -- a surgery that was done for the first time in this country at Hopkins in March.

Keeping organs 'alive' may ease transplant shortage

The initiatives were announced in conjunction with an "organ donor summit," hosted by the White House, that included discussion of ways to increase the number of people registered to donate organs. While 95 percent of the public supports organ donation, the White House said, only about 50 percent are registered as donors.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other groups committed to a campaign to encourage people to declare themselves donors in online forums, which is much easier and less time-consuming than doing it through state motor vehicle departments. They will work with ORGANIZE, a nonprofit that is trying to use technology and social media to end the donor shortage.

Nearly 31,000 organs were transplanted in the United States last year, but the sizable gap between demand and supply generally widens every year, leaving tens of thousands of people on waiting lists.  An average of 22 people die daily while waiting for transplants. Almost 60 percent of transplanted organs in the United States are kidneys, and the vast majority of people on waiting lists need that organ.

The Defense Department initiative may be the most far-reaching announced Monday. The $160 million in public and private funding would create the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which will coordinate efforts to develop ways of fabricating tissue in the hope of one day creating replacement organs.

The Pentagon also said it would hand out $7 million in grants to small businesses that are trying to improve technology for organ and tissue preservation and as much as $7.8 million to expand the availability of donated organs and preserve organs for transplantation.