Doctors Are Discarding Donated Kidneys That Could Save Lives

U.S. doctors are discarding donated kidneys that could keep people alive for years, simply because the organs are not top-quality, a new study claims.

“Suboptimal” kidneys from older donors with health problems perform much better than expected, and would preserve a patient’s life much longer than dialysis, said lead researcher Dr. Sumit Mohan. He is an associate professor of medicine & epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

About 73 percent of lower-quality kidneys received by Columbia patients were still functioning five years after transplant, Mohan and his colleagues found.kidneys

“To our surprise, yes, they did worse than the best-quality kidneys, but they didn’t do that poorly,” Mohan said.

By comparison, the five-year survival rate for kidney patients on dialysis is about 35 percent, Mohan said.

“If I don’t get a kidney, my alternative is to stay on dialysis,” Mohan said. “Even getting a suboptimal kidney provides a huge survival advantage.”

Unfortunately, about 1 in 5 donated kidneys winds up in a trash can in the United States, Mohan said, even though the United Network for Organ Sharing shows more than 97,000 people are now on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.

These kidneys are discarded because biopsies of donated organs reveal scarring or other problems that make them less than ideal, Mohan said.

When is a donor kidney good enough?

Some low-quality kidneys are rightfully discarded, Mohan said, but he suspected that many donor kidneys could still provide years of good function.