Organ transplantation is a life changing and quality-of-life enhancing treatment option for patients with end-stage organ failure. Eurotransplant was set up in 1967 by Prof. Jon J. van Rood to take full advantage of the opportunities for organ transplants.
Eurotransplant, an organization on a mission
As an international non-profit organization, it acts as a mediator between donor hospitals and transplant centers for the benefit of patients in need of an organ transplant in all its member states.
The Eurotransplant network consists of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia, serving a total population of around 137 million people.
Over more than 50 years, Eurotransplant has facilitated the allocation and cross-border exchange of deceased donor organs – kidneys, livers, pancreases, intestines, hearts and lungs. Partners in the organ exchange process include hospitals where organ donations take place, national organ procurement organizations, transplant centers, tissue-typing laboratories and national competent authorities. All these parties work together with the same common aim: to ensure that the best possible match is made between donor organs available and patients on the transplant waiting list – and hence to give a growing number of these patients the prospect of life or a better quality of life in the future.
A matter of life and death: allocating organs
The transplant centers in the Eurotransplant network have their patients waiting for an organ transplant registered in Eurotransplant’s central database with all the matching relevant characteristics. As soon as a donor becomes available, his or her characteristics are also recorded in the same database. Using a sophisticated computer program, Eurotransplant can instantly produce a ‘match list’ for every organ that becomes available.
This match list is generated based on predefined allocation rules which take into account factors such as the blood group, time spent on the waiting list and the relative urgency. International agreements for sharing organs and national regulations are also taken into account. This is in fact Eurotransplant’s core business: it operates round-the-clock, matching organs as they become available and allocating them to patients on the waiting list.
Benefits for patients
One of the major prerequisites of an organ transplant is that the donor and the recipient fit together concerning certain characteristics like their blood group and also, in the case of particular organs such as kidneys, that the tissue types should be compatible with each other. The better the match, the lower the risk of a rejection and the loss of an organ.
This is one of the main reasons why the international cooperation through Eurotransplant benefits all patients in the member countries: a large pool of donors and recipients makes it easier to achieve a better match between the available donor organs with the patients on the waiting list, thereby improving both the short-term and the long-term outcomes of transplantation. In other words, international cooperation is good news for both survival rates and the quality of life. A number of specific patient groups in particular have a better chance of receiving a suitable donor organ in time, thanks to the international cooperation in Eurotransplant.
Patients on the transplant waiting list are subject to intensive monitoring, as the team of attending physicians keeps a close check on any changes in the patient’s situation. If there is a risk of the patient dying within very short term if no organ is found, he or she may be – under strict conditions – categorized as ‘high-urgency’ (HU) and therefore allotted a high ranking on the waiting list. The international cooperation within Eurotransplant means that they often swiftly receive the life-saving organ.
There is another group of patients who are classified to be ‘immunized’, which means that there is a risk that they have antibodies that will react to blood or tissue from another person. Because this equates with an equally high risk of organ rejection, immunized patients are eligible for the ‘acceptable mismatch’ (AM) program. This program involves identifying those tissue characteristics that would be acceptable to them. If an organ with these characteristics then becomes available, these patients are given priority on the match list.
A third patient group consists of children, who are also given a special ranking on the waiting list and hence have a better chance of receiving an organ relatively quickly. The rationale here is not only that a good organ function is vital for children in growth, but also that children by definition have less chance of finding a good match, as adult organs tend to be too big for them. Therefore age is another important consideration.
Joining forces to access knowledge
Apart from the benefit of an international waiting list and the fact that its database contains all the available information on donors and recipients, Eurotransplant also offers the great advantage of providing a source of knowledge and a platform for information sharing, both within and beyond its own network. For example, doctors and scientists from all Eurotransplant member states voluntary work together in the Eurotransplant Advisory Committees where they join forces to develop proposals for adapting the rules for the allocation of donor organs that are based on scientific proof, medical expertise and transplant outcome.
Eurotransplant is a renowned research center that collects, generates and disseminates knowledge, within and beyond its eight member states.
Eurotransplant’s organizational structure is democratic. The national competent authorities, the national scientific transplant societies and the transplant programs at the centers are entitled to contribute to Eurotransplant’s policies and practices at every level.