Transplants advance, but number of obstacles still remain

Updated: Sep 20, 2023 Print
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After a decade of continuous efforts, organ transplants in China have made significant institutional and technological progress.

On July 6, 2012, the China Organ Donation Administrative Center was established.

The center's website states that by Sept 10 this year, more than 6.3 million people had signed up to be voluntary organ donors, and 145,525 organs had been received from 47,594 donors.

Donors' contributions are well-remembered in China. For example, on March 23, a commemoration was held at Wuxi Body (Organ) Donation Volunteer Memorial Park in Jiangsu province, Health Times reported.

The park's memorial stone bears the names of 586 donors who saved the lives of 374 people who experienced organ failure. The donors also helped more than 100 patients recover their sight, and boosted medical development work.

More than 20 cities in China organized public memorial activities for organ donors on the Tomb Sweeping Day this year. They included Qinhuangdao and Cangzhou in Hebei province, Jingzhou, Wuhan and Xiaogan in Hubei province, and Nanjing, Suzhou and Yangzhou in Jiangsu province. Participants laid bouquets at condolence and tribute monuments.

Chen Jingyu, one of China's top lung transplant experts and vice-president of Wuxi People's Hospital, said China is now a global leader in organ transplant technology. In 2021, the Wuxi hospital performed 176 lung transplants, ranking first in the world.

"I normally perform more than 200 operations every year, so we have enough opportunities to improve our technology, and even spark innovation," Chen said.

When Chen visited Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium in June, medics at the institution were amazed by the progress made by China, and unprecedentedly invited him to carry out a surgical demonstration.

A lung transplant at the Antwerp hospital usually takes 10 hours, while Chen can perform such a procedure in four to five hours. About 800 lung transplants, 5,000 liver transplants and 12,000 kidney transplants are performed in China each year.

Despite the recent improvements made to organ transplants, the nation still faces several obstacles.

Chen said: "The first is supply. We take organs from donors strictly in accordance with the law. We can only collect donors' organs when patients are judged to be brain dead by doctors who are not involved in organ transplants.

"Then there is organ maintenance. Generally, a donor who donates his or her heart, lungs, liver and kidneys can save six lives. Doctors in intensive care units not only need to save lives, but must also learn to preserve organs from donors who have been declared brain dead.

"Third, there is publicity. Globally, China is lagging behind in organ donations. In the United States, around 40 people per million donate their organs, while in China, the figure is only about four per million."

Scientists are working to find other solutions to alleviate organ shortages. On Jan 10 last year, surgeons at the University of Maryland in the US completed the world's first pig-to-human heart transplant. However, David Bennett, 57, who received the pig's heart in a seven-hour experimental operation, died two months later due to heart failure.

"Like other methods, xenotransplantation (grafting or transplanting organs or tissues between members of different species) is still in the clinical research stage and there is a big gap between practical application," Chen said.

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