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Hard choices: Pitt researcher presents findings on when to accept organ transplants

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 19 -- A transplant is the only option for someone with end-stage liver disease, but patients face difficult questions when choosing the best time to receive a transplant. Today, in a panel discussion at the 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., a University of Pittsburgh researcher will present findings on how his mathematical models can help patients make the right decision.

Andrew Schaefer, an assistant professor and the Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow in Pitt's Department of Industrial Engineering, uses engineering techniques to examine the decision-making process facing potential recipients of livers from both living and cadaveric donors.

The liver is a unique organ in that it can regenerate itself: If a living person donates a part of his or her liver, the livers of both donor and recipient typically grow to normal size within two weeks of the surgery. Livers from cadaveric donors are difficult to come by, and, as a result, numerous patients die waiting for a life-saving organ. Nonetheless, many patients prefer to remain on the national waiting list, preferring not to put someone they know through a living-donor operation, which involves a small but real risk to the donor.

According to Schaefer, patients should use up the capacity of their current liver first--but waiting too long could be dangerous. So the questions become: In the case of a living donor, how long should the patient wait before accepting the transplant? And in the case of a cadaveric donor, what criteria should one follow in deciding to accept a potential offer? The answers to these questions are not at all obvious, and Schaefer and his colleagues-- Mark S. Roberts, associate professor of medicine in Pitt's Division of General Internal Medicine, and Oguzhan Alagoz and Lisa M. Maillart of Case Western Reserve University--have been able to show that mathematical models can provide i
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Contact: Karen Hoffman
klh52@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
19-Feb-2005


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