WASHINGTON — The White House announced an effort Monday to improve organ transplants in the United States, including a $160 million investment spearheaded by the Defense Department that could lead to an innovative new way to replace organs.
The Pentagon, in partnership with the private sector, will create a new institute that will research and develop next-generation technology that can be used to repair and replace human cells and tissues.
The technology to be developed through the new Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Manufacturing Innovation Institute could eventually lead to full-fledged organ replacements, the administration said. The institute will help coordinate industry, academia, and nonprofit groups in pursuit of that goal.
The announcement came at the White House Organ Summit, a meeting organized by the administration to help encourage new ways to cut the waiting time for organ donations.
“I think we’re all going to look back and say that we were present at the creation of something special that’s going to make a difference in millions of people’s lives,” Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, said at the summit.
Dr. Wendy Dean, a Pentagon medical adviser, said at the summit that the bio-manufacturing institute was inspired by the military’s desire to better heal wounded soldiers coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Our ability to save our service members was tremendous,” Dean said. “Our ability to fully restore them was lagging behind.”
Among the challenges that the effort will face are how to standardize the processes by which regenerative cells are grown and the dosage given to patients “so we know every single time we pull one of these products, we know it’s the same product as the one before,” Dean said.
Elsewhere, the White House is setting a specific benchmark of trying to increase the number of successful transplants by 2,000 through two initiatives: a data-sharing agreement between more than 30 transplant centers on kidney transplants and a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease that will explore how to eventually expand the HIV-positive donor population.
Other efforts include a plan by the Kidney Health Institute, a venture led by the Food and Drug Administration and the American Society of Nephrology, that would lead to the creation of a bioengineered alternative to kidney dialysis. They will explore what scientific, technical, and regulatory hurdles need to be cleared.
Another collaboration, supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and led by the National Cell Manufacturing Consortium, is releasing a similar 10-year outline that maps out how to develop next-generation cell-manufacturing technology that would eventually be able to regenerate organs.
Alongside these research and industry initiatives, the Obama administration is looking at improving the digital infrastructure for organ transplants to increase the number of successful transplants.
Part of that effort will center on TransNet, an online platform run by the United Network for Organ Sharing, which contracts with the federal government to run the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. The platform uses bar codes to help label and track organs being shipped around the country for transplants.
UNOS said 46 of the 58 organ procurement organizations in the United States have been trained to use the system and announced that the remaining 12 will be trained by June 1, 2017.
The group is also planning to update its software so organ procurement organizations, or OPO, and transplant centers can electronically enter information into the UNOS system that manages donations. That change is expected to make it easier for hospitals, which currently have to manually fill out forms and then upload them to the network, and therefore reduce delays in matching donors to recipients.
In addition, a new pilot project will encourage transplant centers to produce more detailed donor profiles. UNOS expects the improved profiles to lead to better matches between donors and recipients and therefore reduce unwanted organ offers.
“UNOS touches every organ transplant done in the United States,” UNOS CEO Brian Shepard said in a statement. “These technology initiatives will speed the matching process and support the work of hospitals and OPOs to get transplants to more patients.”
The initiative will also open up the research opportunities for studying how the organ network is working and how to improve it. UNOS plans to create a technology platform that will allow transplant centers and behavioral science researchers to test ways to enhance the system. The Health Resources and Services Administration is conducting its own research, including a study on increasing the use of moderate to high-risk kidneys for transplants.
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is also launching a Donor Management Research Institute — funded by a three-year, $4.2 million grant — in support of the effort. It will conduct several randomized controlled trials to test ways to maximize the quantity and quality of organs that each individual donor is able to give.
Meanwhile, the National Kidney Foundation will launch a program to encourage living kidney donations. Dubbed “The Big Ask, The Big Give,” it has been tested in Atlanta and will soon roll out nationwide, along with an effort to educate patients in how to use social networks to raise awareness about the need for kidney donors.