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Tech brings hope to kidney transplant seekers

A new technology to be unveiled at the Demo conference employs complex algorithms to find suitable matches for kidney transplants.

When President Obama talks about employing technology to improve the health care system, perhaps he's talking about something like the kidney donation software developed by Silverstone Solutions.

Designed by software engineer David Jacobs--whose own brother died of kidney failure--Silverstone's Kidney Paired Donation technology is built around the idea of radically improving the process through which those in need of kidney transplants must go to get what they need. If they are able to at all.

Today, Jacobs said, there are 83,000 Americans waiting for kidney transplants, each of whom has to wait between seven and eleven years for a new organ, much or all of that on dialysis. Many of those people don't survive the wait. Silverstone's technology (listen to a podcast about the software) aims to capitalize on a concept that has existed since the 1990s in which multiple pairs of incompatible donors and recipients are mined to uncover a suitable pair.

Silverstone Solutions' software is designed to find suitable matches between kidney donors and those suffering from kidney disease. Already, the software has been used by a San Francisco hospital to save nearly two dozen lives, the company said. Silverstone Solutions

Silverstone is one of 39 companies presenting at Demo in Palm Springs, Calif., this week.

While the concept has been around for some time, Jacobs said, the technology didn't exist to deal with the complexities of finding the needle in the haystack: the pair that does work out of many which, for one genetic reason or another, don't.

After his brother died, and his own kidney failure led to two years on dialysis waiting for a transplant, Jacobs said that he realized he could apply his software skills to solving the problem faced by thousands of people across the United States--that of the frustration and frequently deadly consequences of having someone who is a willing kidney donor whose organ is incompatible.

In general, Jacobs said, making appropriate matches often wasn't possible in these circumstances because of a multitude of factors, including the difficulties of sharing patient information among multiple clinics, and the inability of those clinics and hospitals to apply sophisticated enough software to identifying the right matches.

Now, however, Jacobs said, his software--which in general will be licensed by medical institutions--will make it possible to quickly and efficiently find appropriate matches among even thousands of otherwise incompatible pairs. By evaluating the genetic data among the many potential pairings, the software can find the right recipients for the kidneys of willing--and importantly, living--donors.

What used to take months, or more, Jacobs said, can now take minutes, potentially saving the lives of many victims of kidney disease.

Already, San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center is using Silverstone's software, and has so far saved nearly two dozen lives, Jacobs said.

The heart of Silverstone's software, he suggested, are algorithms that can find the right matches out of what might millions of possible combinations. What's key, he said, is that the software works with potential matches involving living donors, whereas the national list of 83,000 people needing transplants relies on finding matches for the organs of those who have just died. By working on potential pairings involving living donors, there is more flexibility in matching up the donors and the recipients, and, perhaps just as important, more time available for getting the donated organ to the patient.

For now, Silverstone's software is dedicated to kidney transplants. And while its algorithms revolve around genetic analysis specific to kidney disease, it seems logical that the software could also be used for finding appropriate matches for other organs.