Here’s an article from early 2008 about a young lady from Australia who underwent a liver transplant… and then was able to completely stop taking the anti-rejection medication!
Demi-Lee Brennan’s liver failed when she was nine. It was a close call, so close that doctors decided to roll the dice and transplant a new liver that did not exactly match her blood type. Demi-Lee is O-Negative, while the only available organ was O-Positive. Ten months later she had developed anemia and doctors were at a loss as to what to do. Tests showed that the liver’s stem cells were trying to overwhelm Demi-Lee’s bone marrow, the site where new blood cells are produced.
The stem cells from the new liver succeeded… within a few months, Demi-Lee’s blood had changed to O-Positive and she no longer needed the anti-rejection drugs! Described as a “one in a billion,” today Demi-Lee appears to be a happy, healthy, teenager with multicolored hair.
Scientists here in the US are working on ways to intentionally introduce stem cells to bone marrow to avoid transplanted organ rejection, but Demi-Lee is the only known case that happened spontaneously. However, this will not increase the number of organs available for transplant.
While stem cells show a lot of promise – everything from using adult stem cells to regenerate heart tissue (needs work) to building a new heart (needs a lot of work) it doesn’t hold a candle to a technique we’ve discussed before: mandatory organ donation.
In the United States and a few other countries, organ donation laws are Explicit Consent, or “Opt-In.” This means that you have to choose to become an organ donor. In countries with Presumed Consent laws (“Opt-Out”) it is assumed that your organs are available for transplant after your death. If you do not want to become an organ donor, then you have to fill out forms stating that desire. While it may raise eyebrows for the State to assume that you will donate your organs, the procedure to opt-out is almost as easy as becoming an organ donor in the US – usually just sign a form, and place a sticker on your Driver’s License or ID Card.
While it is unfamiliar and may be a little frightening, Opt-Out works a lot better than Opt-In. (Link is a .pdf file) Organ donation rates in countries with Presumed Consent are much higher. Much, much, higher.
A shortage of organs for transplant? Yes… in the United States. Perhaps we should seriously consider switching to Presumed Consent.