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Nobel winner Alvin Roth helped design paired kidney donation software

October 16, 2012
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The two winners for this year's Nobel prize for economics, Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, were recognized by the Nobel committee for creating algorithms to make matches in markets where there are not traditionally prices. Roth has used the algorithms for many applications, including pairing living kidney donors with recipient

From the Nobel committee

 "This year's Prize concerns a central economic problem: how to match different agents as well as possible. For example, students have to be matched with schools, and donors of human organs with patients in need of a transplant. How can such matching be accomplished as efficiently as possible? What methods are beneficial to what groups? The prize rewards two scholars who have answered these questions on a journey from abstract theory on stable allocations to practical design of market institutions."

 

Roth's effect on kidney donation

Nearly 2,000 patients in the United States have received kidneys under the system developed from Roth and Shapley's models, Ruthanne Hanto, project manager of the United Network for Organ Sharing told Reuters.

In 2003, there were just 19 kidney transplants from live donors in the United States, according to Reuters. The year the system was introduced the number rose to 34, and last year it reached 443.

Roth's system is the driving force behind the large kidney donation chains that are being implemented all over the country. Roth's algorithms allow transplant centers to swap incompatible donors with compatible ones from other donor-patient pairs.

The kidney pairing system allows more kidney patients to receive donor kidneys from live donors, saving deceased donor kidneys for those who really need them.

"His algorithm allows us to see combinations that you wouldn't see," Richard Formica, medical director of the kidney transplant program at Yale University told Reuters. "It revolutionized the way we do it."


*The photo of Alvin Roth at a Stanford University press conference was provided by Stanford University

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