How Big Data is changing organ donations and transplants

July 31st, 2014 by - 2,598 views

For years, the process of becoming an organ donor has been the same. To be registered, a person needs to attend a drive or go out of the way to get a membership card. To this day, 95 percent of those in the United States who donate sign up on yet another frustrating trip to the DMV, the very place most people try to avoid at all costs. Today, there is still a massive shortage of these volunteers in the U.S., an issue that is being addressed using Big Data and cloud computing to make access for donors and those requiring organs easier.

New technology allows those in need to find organs like others check out library books.

New technology allows those in need to find organs like others check out library books.

Diagnosing the volunteer shortage
Activist groups like have worked to promote more organ donor sign ups in the United States as a result of the current shortage. According to a report from Health Data Consortium, 18 patients die in the country every day waiting for an organ that doesn’t come and nearly 120,000 are currently on the national waiting list. In an interview with, founders Greg Segal and Jenna Arnold explained how cloud hosting could change this shortage and increase the rate at which those who need donations receive them.

“There’s plenty of room to increase donation rates; 90 percent of America supports organ donation, yet only 40 percent have registered, which means there are 150 million Americans who support the cause but still haven’t registered,” they expanded.

Although Big Data can be used to find those who haven’t donated, Segal and Arnold suggested using the technology to hone in on the donors who can really help.

“That sounds like a subtle distinction,” they explained to Health Data Consortium, “but only about 1 percent of deaths medically qualify for donation, so the key innovations will be in registering the right people, not just in registering more people.”

How is the cloud infrastructure able to find this small cross-section of Americans within the 90 percent willing to donate? That’s a still-evolving process.

Big Data and the organ donor list
By taking a cursory look at donation statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the stark contrast between living and deceased donors is staggering. In some ways, this finding isn’t surprising – living donors can only provide one kidney and part of their liver. A single deceased donor can provide everything from both kidneys to both lungs, a heart, and a full liver, and doesn’t entail the same recovery costs associated with someone who needs to resume daily life after the transplant is complete.

Next, Mashable contributor Eli Epstein noted that it’s important to examine what the demand for organs is, and which specific parts of the body are needed most frequently. When Big Data crunches the numbers, the kidney is by far the leader, followed by the liver and heart in smaller quantities.

Here’s where cloud computing comes in. Unlike the term “list” implies, software is used to separate willing donors into different pools – first by organ type, then narrowed by family history and personal risk, then by blood type, and on and on. This well-honed machine allows doctors and surgeons to locate a match the same way one would find a particular book in the library. Advanced algorithms developed in the last few years have helped eliminate additional complications like blood disorders and the development of antibodies within a patient.

“In 2000, only two paired donation transplants were performed,” the Mashable report detailed. “Today, more than 2,897 have been completed, with 500 of them coming in the last two years.”

At this rate, Big Data technology promises to change the direction of health care for the better, with more developments yet to come.

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