January 5, 2023/News Releases

New Method of Donor-Lung Distribution Expected to Decrease Deaths Among Those on Transplant Waiting List

Study by Cleveland Clinic and the U.S. Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients Findings Expected to Improve Transplant Allocation Equity

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A new method of donor-lung distribution is projected to decrease the number of candidate deaths who are on the waitlist for lung transplant, according to a study by Cleveland Clinic and the U.S. Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) published in The American Journal of Transplantation.

Under the current system, donor lungs are distributed to candidates waiting for lung transplant using the Lung Allocation Score. However, in early 2023, the LAS will be replaced by a new distribution system called the Composite Allocation Score.

Maryam Valapour, M.D., Director of Lung Transplant Outcomes at Cleveland Clinic, is the primary author of the study. Dr. Valapour also serves as the Senior Investigator for Lung Transplantation for the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, the organization responsible for analyzing U.S. transplant data.

The Lung Allocation Score system measures donor and recipient compatibility, geographical restrictions and prioritizes calculated survival benefit from transplant. It first aligns compatibility for candidates within a 250-mile radius, sometimes resulting in an inefficient distribution of organs based on geographical restriction. Under this current system, sicker patients who live just outside the 250-mile radius may lose out on a life-saving transplant because of where they live.

The new Composite Allocation Score system was developed to improve equity in organ allocation by eliminating geographical boundaries and prioritizing the candidate’s medical needs. This system is expected to set a precedent for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for all organs, with lungs being the first organ allocation system to undergo this change.

“The importance of removing the geographical barrier can’t be overstated here,” said Dr. Valapour. “The Composite Allocation Score system’s goal of making access to lung transplant more equitable for all candidates in the United States will help reduce waitlist mortality and we hope will even improve post-transplant survival over time.”

To understand the potential effects on lung transplant candidates waiting for organs, the research team tested six alternative scenarios over 10 simulations using data from individuals on the lung transplant waiting list from Jan. 1, 2018, through Dec. 31, 2019. Depending on the scenario tested, waitlist deaths decreased by 36% to 47% in the Composite Allocation Score system as compared to the current system.

Across all simulated Composite Allocation Score scenarios, the system led to improved overall measures of equity compared with the current Lung Allocation Score system, including reduced waitlist deaths, and resulted in similar post-transplant survival.

“With more candidates added to the waitlist every day, access to available lungs is incredibly important,” says study co-author, Carli Lehr, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care physician at Cleveland Clinic. “The Composite Allocation Score system will help those on the waitlist overcome challenges associated with their proximity to potential donors.”

In 2022, there were over 3,000 candidates added to the lung transplant waitlist with over 2,600 lung transplants performed, according to UNOS. While the numbers of donors and transplants are improving, there is still a shortage of available organs in the United States. For more information on how to become an organ donor, visit UNOS.

About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 72,500 employees worldwide are more than 5,050 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,800 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,500-bed health system that includes a 173-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 22 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, including locations in northeast Ohio; southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2021, there were 10.2 million total outpatient visits, 304,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 259,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

Editor’s Note: Cleveland Clinic News Service is available to provide broadcast-quality interviews and B-roll upon request.

About The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR)

The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) is charged with analyzing and reporting information about the US transplant system. Data driven to improve patient outcomes, SRTR is enhancing publicly reported metrics based on transplant stakeholder recommendations, in an effort to ensure that organs donated nationally are allocated fairly and equitably.

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