Research, Therapy and Non-Traditional Transplants

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WRTC is proud to offer a variety of new and innovative ways in which donors and their families can save and enhance lives beyond traditional organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Through our research programs, donors are able to donate organs, tissue systems and individual tissues to far-reaching medical research and therapy.

All of our partners strive to save lives through the development and implementation of innovative therapies for disease and trauma. WRTC is an accredited member of the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB), one of the only national tissue banking organizations in the United States. Together, with all other 120 accredited tissue banks and 1,875 individual members, tissue has been recovered from more than 39,000 donors annually in the U.S.

In tissue banking, both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations operate to make up a network of tissue banks, organ procurement organizations and eye banks that recover and distribute tissue.

99 Problems but Research Ain't One

In 2020, Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC) continues to prioritize the recovery and allocation of non-transplantable organs and tissues for important medical research initiatives.

In February, Immanuel Rasool, Manager of Research & Living Donation, presented on the topic of research to hundreds of donation and transplantation professionals at the Association of Organ Procurement Organization (AOPO) Compass Meeting in San Diego. The presentation entitled “99 Problems but Research Ain’t One!” explored how research is an ever-growing field in donation and transplantation and how WRTC has seen an increased demand for organs and tissues for research from transplant centers, academic institutions, biotech organizations and more.

Rasool provided a historical perspective on how WRTC’s program has grown in the past decade and discussed the challenges an organ procurement organization (OPO) might face as it builds a research program from the ground up. He offered guidance to OPOs on how to navigate these challenges and empowered them to build a culture of research within their organization. from the top down.

WRTC consistently ranks within the Top 10 in the nation for allocating organs for research per donor among 58 OPOs. Currently, WRTC has 15 direct research partners ranging from NIH to IIAM to Johns Hopkins University.

WRTC Participates in APOLLO Study

African-Americans are disproportionately affected by end-stage renal disease, and research indicates this might be because of small changes in the APOL1 gene. Preliminary data suggests that variation in the APOL1 gene can also impact kidney transplantation outcomes. Based on this, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently launched a national research initiative called the APOLLO study.

The purpose of the APOLLO study is to test kidney donors and kidney recipients for variants (or forms) of the APOL1 gene to determine whether they impact outcomes. In order to be eligible for the APOLLO study, deceased donors must be of African descent, donate one or both kidneys and their legal next of kin must authorize research.

In August 2019, Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC), collected biosamples from its first APOLLO donor, and plans to collect samples from all eligible donors for the duration of the initiative, which could last up to five years. All 58 organ procurement organizations across the nation are participating in this study. Ultimately, the research gathered could lead to more kidney transplants and improve on the success of living kidney donation.

Organ Donors Contribute to Innovative Cancer Research

In May 2019, WRTC provided its first donor liver to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for an ongoing cancer research study. NCI is conducting experiments to see how drugs access an organ and treat cancer in hopes of learning more about the ways cancer spreads and exploring alternative models for cancer treatment. As soon as the liver from WRTC arrived at NCI, it was placed on an ex-vivo perfusion machine (or pump) that simulates the human body and allows liquid to flow or be pumped through the vessels of an organ. The liver functioned outside of the body for 30 hours.

Dr. Michael Wach, a surgical oncology research fellow at NCI, said a human liver is the “gold standard” for experimentation and allows researchers “to look at cancer as we haven’t before.”

Wach said while they’ve come a long way since the days of conducting research on mice and using petri dishes, when this study initially launched in 2017, researchers placed a pig liver on the ex-perfusion machine. They were fascinated to learn that the liver produced bile outside of the body.

In addition to the liver, WRTC also provided a pancreas for this project last winter and in the future will look to recover intestines for NCI. The objective of the study is to gather information that will help develop an oncology drug that will receive FDA approval. Right now, the majority of new cancer medicines aren’t making their way out of testing which is a major obstacle in the progress of cancer care. The success of this research could make great leaps forward for cancer therapy and could ultimately help treat and potentially cure an incredible number of patients.

Thanks to our generous donors, WRTC has allocated 52 organs for research through May 2019 and recovered 38 tissues for research purposes.

The Power of Research

At WRTC, we realize the power of scientific and medical research and its ability to save lives and heal patients. Therefore, donors can donate organs and tissues, unsuitable for transplants, to far-reaching medical research and therapy initiatives. WRTC recently engaged eight new research partners approved by the Board of Directors and the Organ and Tissue Advisory Committee (OTAC). Here is a sampling of just a few of the innovative projects WRTC is involved in.

Partial Foot Transplants

Our new collaboration with MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute will help kidney and pancreas transplant recipients who struggle with diabetes and non-healing heel ulcers. These patients have a high risk for eventual amputation of the involved foot, resulting in higher rates of disability and decreased life expectancy. WRTC will soon start recovering a foot in combination with a pancreas from the same donor to increase the recipient’s chances of achieving a diabetes-free, infection free and highly functional quality of life.

Bone Marrow Recovery

WRTC is recovering vertebral bodies from deceased organ donors for bone marrow research conducted by Ossium Health. The bone marrow is being used to research the feasibility of developing a cell therapy to cure blood cancers such as leukemia, improve organ transplantation and repair damage from radiation. Ossium Health is also exploring the potential of one day transplanting bone marrow from deceased donors rather than relying on living donors who currently undergo an invasive and painful process.  

In 2018, WRTC allocated 92 organs for research, which ranks 7th in the nation among 58 organ procurement organizations. In addition, WRTC recovered 80 tissues for research purposes.