Global Kidney Exchange (GKE) to Overcome Financial Barriers to Kidney Transplantation

Over at his Market Design blog, Al Roth has posted about our new article, forthcoming in the American Journal of Transplantation. From his post:

Kidney Exchange to Overcome Financial Barriers to Kidney Transplantation


Michael A. Rees, Ty B. Dunn, Christian S. Kuhr, Christopher L. Marsh, Jeffrey Rogers, Susan E. Rees, Alejandra Cicero, Laurie J. Reece, Alvin E. Roth, Obi Ekwenna, David E. Fumo, Kimberly D. Krawiec, Jonathan E. Kopke, Samay Jain, Miguel Tan, Siegfredo R. Paloyo

Accepted manuscript online: 7 November 2016

“This article has been accepted for publication and undergone full peer review but has not been through the copyediting, typesetting, pagination and proofreading process, which may lead to differences between this version and the Version of Record. Please cite this article as doi: 10.1111/ajt.14106”


Organ shortage is the major limitation to kidney transplantation in the developed world. Conversely, millions of end-stage renal disease patients in the developing world die because they cannot afford renal replacement therapy—even when willing living kidney donors exist. This juxtaposition between countries with funds but no available kidneys and those with available kidneys but no funds, prompts us to propose an exchange program utilizing each nation’s unique assets. Our proposal leverages the cost savings achieved through earlier transplantation over dialysis to fund the cost of kidney exchange between developed-world patient/donor pairs with immunological barriers and developing-world patient/donor pairs with financial barriers. By making developed-world healthcare available to impoverished patients in the developing world, we replace unethical transplant tourism with global kidney exchange—a modality equally benefitting rich and poor. We report the one-year experience of an initial Filipino pair, whose recipient was transplanted in the US with an American donor’s kidney at no cost to him. The Filipino donor donated to an American in the US through a kidney exchange chain. Follow-up care and medications in the Philippines were supported by funds from the US. We show that the logistical obstacles in this approach, although considerable, are surmountable.


And here’s that first GKE chain to date: it started with an American non-directed donor (blood type A) donating to the Filipino patient, and this chart shows the first 11 transplants that resulted.

1st GKE


I blogged about GKE before (back when we were calling it Reverse Transplant Tourism – admittedly a less palatable name than Global Kidney Exchange).  Mike Rees and I floated the idea as a hypothetical in Reverse Transplant Tourism, part of the Law & Contemporary Problems volume, Organs & Inducements. Back then, we proposed that a simple 2-way swap could help US incompatible pairs and developing world pairs (whether biologically incompatible or not), while also saving money, by leveraging the cost savings of transplantation over dialysis.  In practice, though, and as shown by the figure posted by Al, the first GKE helped a Filipino patient unable to afford transplantation on his own, while also facilitating a chain that has transplanted 11 US patients so far.


This video of the first GKE transplant is both informative and uplifting.




Related posts:

Reverse Transplant Tourism

Reverse Transplant Tourism (cont.)

RTT Conclusion

Reverse Transplant Tourism Goes Live!!

More News Coverage Of Reverse Transplant Tourism

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